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John Noble 






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An AmericanTellsHis Story 










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AN AMERICAN TELLS HIS STORY 



By John Noble 



THE DEVIN-ADAIR COMPANY • NEW YORK • 1960 



I WAS A SLAVE 
IN RUSSIA 



It is hard to de 

scribe a nightmare adequately, unless you can say 
how the day had been before the night fell. The 
worst time may come after a good calm day, when 
the night turns into a horror. 

For me, it came out of days that were filled with 
new hopes and with dreams for the days to come. 
It came on a very good day, and it happened like 
this. 



1 



DRESDEN, CRUMBLED 
by the giant blows of American air raids, moved restlessly 
and expectantly in its ruins. It was the first week of May, 
1945. War sounds of a new sort had been heard from east 
and west. On May 6, just sixty-five miles to the west, 
American soldiers were pushing against the last lines of 
German resistance. To the east, Russian troops were mov- 
ing toward the city. 

For my family, in our house high above Dresden on 
Bergbahn Strasse (the Street of the Mountain Railway), 
the sounds meant something far different from what they 
meant to any of our neighbors. 

Throughout the war we had been locally interned by 
Hitler's forces. We were not permitted to leave the city, 
and every third day we had to register with the police. We 
were under constant observation by the Gestapo. Yet we 
were treated well, even courteously. 

For we were enemy aliens, American citizens. I was 
born in the United States. My father and mother, born io 
Germany, and my brother, born in Switzerland, were natu- 
ralized Americans and remain so to this day. The war 
sounds of May 6, therefore, meant that our countrymen 
were coming — and peace. Peace, at long, weary last. 

Perhaps, though, we were listening more closely to the 



west than to the east, wnere the Soviet cannonading was. 

Dresdeners knew that the war was really ending. The 
only question was which side would reach Dresden first, 
the east or the west. Many hoped it would be the east, the 
Russians; the horrors of American air raids were fresh in 
their minds. 

There had been rumors of Russian outrages in other 
parts of the country, but these were only rumors. Few peo- 
ple believed them. 

And so May 6 was cannon fire in the distance and anx- 
iety on the streets. The night before had been sleepless in 
the Noble house. We all were up at dawn. We knew, as 
the whole town did, that today probably would see the 
gunfire and everything pretty well decided. 

A pair of artillery glasses mounted on our sun porch 
gave a view of the entire city. As soon as it was 
light enough to see, we began turning the glasses slowly 
back and forth. There seemed to be no movement at all. 
Even stranger, we heard no sound. To my father, this all 
meant that the end of the race was near. The Americans, 
we hoped, would be the first in. Why not, suggested my 
father, raise the American flag? We had painstakingly 
made the flag from bits of cloth in anticipation of a day 
that we feared would never really come. The only times 
we ever had taken it from its hiding place were those times 
of fear and suspense when American planes rode high in 
the skies, and the siren howls sent the Germans scurrying 
for shelter. We would spread the flag out on the bright 
white tiles of the big terrace that extended from the house 
on all sides. 

My father's proposal sent my brother George and me 
racing up to the roof, the flag in our arms. It was all very 
exciting; we didn't know what might happen as we stuck 



our heads out. There might be shots from the silent town. 
Anything. We hesitated a moment, then were out on the 
roof, feet braced precariously on the slates. Hastily we 
fastened the flag to a rod and hung it out. 

We ducked back in and waited. Still not a sound. Then 
we heard my father calling to us to come quickly. We ran 
down to the porch and looked out over the city. Miracu- 
lously, it seemed, from windows, from rooftops — from al- 
most every building — white flags had begun to pop out 
Within minutes the city below us was a field of white flags 
of every size and construction, flapping in the breeze or 
being waved frantically. 

The appearance of our flag had been like the squeeze 
on a trigger, releasing the town's nervous pressure. The 
people had been poised and waiting for a conqueror — as 
we had been waiting for a liberator. 

The town waited silently, behind its fagade of white 
flags. 

An hour later we knew who had won the race for Dres- 
den. From our porch, through the artillery glasses, we saw 
a soldier. His uniform seemed to be made up of ragged 
odds and ends; but the shoulder boards, askew on his 
tunic, were what counted. They were red. 

The occupying forces flooded in. The highway from 
Bautzen was lined for miles with the horse carts in which 
the Red army traveled through Germany. Drunken sol- 
diers roistered along the road. The fighting was over, and 
there was no discipline. Permission had been given the 
soldiers to pillage and rape. Marshal Zhukov had issued 
the order: full liberty for the Red army to do as it pleased 
for three days. But the horror was to go on unendingly for 
three weeks. 

On that first day in Dresden we saw soldiers pulling mat- 



tresses out of houses, and we knew they would be put to 
one of two uses: for drunken sleep or for rape. Rape was 
the sport of the day, and it was not done in. private. The 
soldiers didn't care about privacy; the screaming victims 
couldn't. 

One might hurry down a residential street and hear 
screams also from houses which one might have visited 
socially the week before. 

Red flags now replaced the white. Swastikas had been 
carefully unstitched, leaving only a red field on which 
greetings to the conquerors had been scrawled: "WE 
THANK THE RED ARMY FOR FREEDOM, WORK, 
AND BREAD." 

Before I left the house to look at "liberated" Dresden, 
George and I had taken a precaution which to some might 
have looked foolish. We simply had hung on the gate a 
sign that read "U.S. PROPERTY." To the Russians it 
must have seemed potent. Not one unauthorized Red sol- 
dier set foot on the property, even though drunken soldiers 
later in the month set fire to the Loisenhof, Dresden's best 
restaurant, across the street from us. And routed 300 per- 
sons out of a bomb shelter nearby and raped every woman 
there, regardless of age or condition. But the sign on our 
gate seemed to throw a circle of exemption around our 
house. It was easy to infer that the friendship of Russia 
and the United States was the reason. 

I was 21 then. Before my next birthday I was to learn 
a lot more about that friendship. 

Soon the sanctuary of the Noble home was being talked 
about among the people we knew in Dresden. In less than 
48 hours after the Red troops had entered the city, while 
rape and pillage were at their height, thirty of our closest 
friends took shelter with us. No. 12 Bergbahn, perched on 



the highest point of the hills around the city and flying the 
American flag, must have seemed a genuine outpost of 
the United States. 

A British prisoner of war, released from a Stalag camp 
when the Russians came through the German lines, had 
shown up at our gate seeking shelter. We gave him food, 
a bicycle, and directions, and after he had rested he went 
off westward to the American lines. 

On the third day of the occupation, we crossed the street 
to the garage in which our car had been stored throughout 
the war. We had had no gas ration and, in any event, as 
aliens we couldn't have gone very far. It was a large, two- 
tone Audi convertible, and to reach it we required the co- 
operation of the garage keeper. To prevent the Russians 
from making off with the 100-odd vehicles in his charge, 
he had cut the wires to the elevator that led to the under- 
ground garage. There was, he explained to the Russians, 
no other way to get there. If they could repair it, of course 
. . . None even tried. Actually, he had only to put two 
wires together. 

George and I painted a fairly "officiaT-looking Amer- 
ican flag on the back trunk of the car and affixed two small 
flags to fender stanchions. Our "U.S." car was then ready 
for a trip to the American lines, sixty-five miles away. 
Father took the trip, with my brother George, a British- 
born neighbor, and an American friend. They were not 
stopped once. 

At Grimma, a little town just west of the demarcation 
line and southeast of Leipzig, they spoke to some Amer- 
ican officers. The town mayor, one Major Clark, said: 
"We'll do all we can. You're in good hands now, but you'll 
have to wait till early 1946. Space will be available then 
for civilians, and you can get back to the States." 



This was not exactly what we had expected, but then 
the two years we had originally intended to stay in Europe 
had already been tripled, and a few more months wouldn't 
matter, we thought. 

Our house continued immune to the abuses that the 
Russians were visiting upon the rest of the town, and even 
our camera factory had not been placed on the Russians' 
list of factories to be immediately dismantled and hauled 
to Russia. Father's "nothing-can-happen-to-us" attitude 
affected us and everything we did. We were secure in our 
house high on the hill. 

Within the first few days of the occupation we tried to 
get the factory back into regular operation. George handled 
production details and I worked to straighten out the ad- 
ministrative end. Some changes had taken place, not all 
of them welcome. One worker who had been assigned to 
the factory as a functionary of the Nazi Arbeitsfront, the 
party's labor-union front, showed up with a Communist 
brassard proudly flaunted in place of his swastika arm- 
band. My father protested against some of the demands 
of the Nazi-turned-Communist and even took his com- 
plaint to the city officials. But there too he found that the 
Communist officials, by and large, were simply Nazi of- 
ficials with new armbands. 

May 13 brought new problems to our "America Island." 
Eight Americans, former prisoners of the Nazis, arrived 
One, carried on a dapple-gray horse, was in a dying con- 
dition. We placed him on a stretcher and carried him to 
the Lahmans sanitarium, now run by the Russians. 

As we stepped into the reception room, we saw vodka 
bottles in place of medicines, Russian drunks instead of 
flowers. The scent of vodka and stale tobacco smoke 

8 



filled the place. We were greeted by a burly soldier who 
shouted, "Get out! This place is for Red army soldiers." 

We carried the moaning soldier back to the house. Our 
'family doctor came to examine him and gave him med- 
icine to relieve the pain. That evening, half a dozen of our 
transient American guests left for the American lines, 
promising to send an ambulance when they arrived. 

We waited, and while we waited the Russians set fire 
to the Loisenhof restaurant. They roared with laughter 
as the flames started to devour the building, but cursed 
and threatened us as, with the aid of our American visitors, 
we put out the fire. 

That evening, more than twenty-four hours after the 
previous group had left for the west, the rest of the Amer- 
icans also departed, all but the sick one; they in turn prom- 
ised to send an ambulance. To our joy, an ambulance 
pulled up a few hours later; it had come at the request of the 
first contingent. The crew loaded the patient aboard and 
were off. 

The second group, we later learned, also reached the 
American lines in safety and reported what was taking 
place in our section of Dresden. On the morning of May 
15, half a dozen staff cars of the 76th Division drove up. 
Khaki cars had never looked more beautiful. Two officers 
came in to speak with us. Their principal mission, they 
said, was to find as many American soldiers as they could. 
We assured them of our help and offered to take them to 
the City Hall, where they might explain their purpose to 
the officials there. 

The Russians, however, were quick to point out that 
they were not interested in rounding up American soldiers 
released from Nazi camps. It was none of our business 



either, they said, making it unmistakably clear that they 
had no intention of cooperating with the Nobles or with 
any other Americans, military or civilian. 

The American officers, quietly furious and expecting no 
help from the Red army, settled upon making the Noble 
house a kind of official halfway station for returning sol- 
diers. We spent the rest of the day cruising around the 
city with them in search of Americans. By nightfall we had 
returned home with thirty in tow. 

It was arranged that cars of the 76th Division should 
come twice weekly to pick up soldiers from our house. But 
as it developed, they came twice a day, and always we had 
American soldiers to send back with them. 

Things were working out. Our factory was in limited 
but healthy production. City Hall seemed to have accepted 
the fact that our house was a liaison station for messages 
and soldiers destined for the American zone. At one point, 
a Red officer came to the door, checked our papers, pro- 
nounced them in order, and offered to post guards if we 
felt the need. We gratefully declined, for the sign "U.S. 
PROPERTY" was working well. The Red army gave our 
factory an order for cameras, and there seemed not a cloud 
on the horizon. 

Perhaps we had not been looking closely enough at 
the streets of Dresden. In the press of our own plans it was 
easy to ignore day-to-day occurrences — civilians stepping 
hastily off the sidewalks when Red soldiers approached; 
the continual drunkenness and rapings; the arrests. These 
disorders were all too easy to overlook as a part of the gen- 
eral disorder in the world. Tomorrow it would be all right 
again. There was always tomorrow. 

In East Germany all optical plants had been disman- 
tled and shipped to the Soviet Union. We had the problem, 

1Q 



then, of obtaining lenses so that we could fill our Red army 
orders for cameras. When we explained this to the Dres- 
den City Hall, we received permission from that source 
and from Red army headquarters to go west and see what 
might be done with American or West German help. 

On June 28 my father and I left at seven in the morning 
on a trip to the American zone. We were to see a lens 
maker in Jena about making lenses for our factory. At 
eleven we reached the border. There was an argument 
with a Red guard about our papers, but finally we con- 
vinced him that they were in order, and we went on our 
way. 

We had very poor success at Jena, because many of- 
ficials of the German optical companies, Zeiss in particu- 
lar, had already headed deeper into the western zone ahead 
of rumors that American forces might soon quit all Thu- 
ringia. We left an order for lenses, nevertheless, and went 
to Kassel, where American headquarters had been estab- 
lished. We planned to work out details there for setting 
up a plant in the American zone. 

At Kassel we were assured there was no need to trans- 
plant our factory, or a part of it, to a western area, or to 
set up a new one there, since Dresden lay in a territory 
that sooner or later would come under British occupation. 

Our trip back was a quiet one, and we felt a great surge 
of relief . When a British border guard who stopped us at 
his check point asked us half seriously if we wanted to 
commit suicide by returning to the Soviet zone, my father 
laughed. 

It was late in the afternoon of July 5 that we crossed 
into the Soviet zone. The barbed-wire entanglements, the 
floodlights, the machine-gun nests that marked the border 
were soon behind us. Rain began to fall, and we nearly 

11 



had our only mishap, skidding and almost hitting a bridge 
abutment. 

We reached Dresden shortly before midnight and drove 
directly to our house. We had seen one or two Russian 
guards patrolling the street, but they showed little interest 
in us. All was quiet, and there were no other people about, 
for none were permitted out of doors after nine. 

We stopped at our gate, unpacked our things quickly, 
and rang the bell. George came out of the house and 
walked down rapidly to meet us. A civilian followed him. 
My father asked, "George, who is he?" 

"Father, something is wrong." George's voice was tired 
and tight. Turning to the civilian and then back to us, he 
said, "They're putting you under arrest." 

I glanced at the roof. The American flag was not there. 

The days of security and complacency had ended. 

The nightmare had begun. And it was to rule us for 
nine years. 



2 



LIGHTS BURNED IN OUR 

house all night, as we readied ourselves for what might fol- 
low. Mother explained what had happened in our ab- 
sence. The Russian soldiers had come a few hours after 
we had left on our trip west. Six house guests, who had 
been driven from their own homes by fear of the liberators, 
were arrested and taken away for questioning. A number 
of American soldiers who had come from the American 
zone were also removed; they were held for five days, we 

12 



learned later. Finally, every camera in the house was con- 
fiscated. 

At no time, while they were being questioned, had 
George or my mother heard mention of a charge. 

My father, still optimistic, was sure it was a misunder- 
standing. All would be straightened out in a day or two. 
But I noticed that the light shone in his room through the 
night. 

At seven the following morning my father and I were 
taken, as prisoners of the Soviet political police, to NKVD 
headquarters in Dresden. We felt a moment of hope as 
we parked: two American jeeps stood by the building. 
Might the Americans be there to arrange our freedom? 
We were soon to find that they too were under arrest. 

We were held at NKVD headquarters for three days. We 
were not formally questioned, but the officers conversed 
with us and sought obliquely the names of any relatives 
we might have in Germany. Still no charges were brought, 
no explanations offered for our arrest. 

After the third day the headquarters was moved, and 
we were taken along, like so much furniture. At the new 
address, Bautzner Strasse 1 14, we were assigned to rooms 
in the attic. From my window I could look up the Elbe 
valley and see the glossy white brick tower of our house, 
the tower from which we had flown our flag. 

At our new address, my only chance to speak to my 
father was on trips to the bathroom. On one trip he told 
me that an NKVD colonel had interviewed him. "You are 
no American citizen," he told my father. My father 
laughed this off as a clumsy intimidation. Then the colonel 
waved a sheet of paper under my father's face; it was a 
telegram, he said, a telegram from New York "proving" 
that my father was not a citizen. When my father replied 

13 



that if a telegram in regard to his citizenship were sent at 
all, it could only prove his citizenship, and that it could 
only come from Washington, not from New York, the 
colonel stalked angrily from the room. Indeed, the attempt 
to frighten us was so clumsy that my father's attitude that 
the arrest was a mistake became more reasonable than 
ever. 

Our food was drab, to say the least. We had noodles 
and canned meat, noodles and milk, noodles and fat or 
potatoes. It was a boring enough diet. Yet it was the best, 
bar none, that I was to eat for the better part of a decade. 

On the evening of the twentieth the bill of fare 
was varied. One of the guards, in a state of excitement, 
brought us sandwiches. He also brought the news we had 
been waiting for: we were to be released. The sandwiches 
seemed almost a gesture of apology. 

The next day we were all ready. I was called down to 
one of the NKVD offices, presumably for my leave-taking. 
A Captain Pankov was waiting for me. He looked and 
acted like NKVD officers: he took short, tight steps, his 
head slightly bowed, eyes turned up and peering from un- 
der frowning brows. It was the NKVD attitude and motion 
of continuous tension. 

Captain Pankov seemed friendly. He greeted me with a 
smile, then got down to business, which I assumed would 
be a final routine questioning, the last go-around before 
the release. 

"How much money have you?" he asked. 

I took out my wallet, opened it, and went through my 
money. A 1000-mark note and 1860 marks in smaller 
denominations were there. I handed him the wallet, auto- 
matically palming the 1000-mark note. The next mo- 
ment, I was glad I had done this. 

14 



"Take off your watch, please," Pankov said. 

I handed it to him, and he wrote out a receipt for it and 
pushed it across the desk to me. 

"Let me have your papers," he said. 

He took these and made a little pile of them. My pass- 
port was there, my driver's license, birth certificate, and 
my papers from the Swiss consulate. The consulate had 
been in technical charge of enemy aliens in Germany dur- 
ing the war. 

On top of the pile he plunked my silver cigarette case. 
(I don't smoke, but I always carried cigarettes to offer to 
others.) 

"You will be taken to prison," he announced routinely. 
He must have seen my face tighten in alarm, for he ex- 
plained the situation in his casual way: "You are to be 
called as a witness in your father's trial and then you will 
go free." 

When I protested that my father, as an American citi- 
zen, hardly seemed liable to a Soviet trial proceeding, Pan- 
kov waved me away with a smile and said, "Our govern- 
ment knows exactly what it can and cannot do. That will 
be all." 

A guard took me to a waiting car; my father was there 
before me. We had a whispered consultation as to the 
meaning of it all, and of one thing my father was sure. 
"Everything will turn out all right," he said. 

The drive was a short one, down the hill and into the 
central part of Dresden. We headed into the partly 
bombed-out but still quite usable Miinchenerplatz prison. 

From the car we were taken inside; gate after gate 
clanged shut behind us, and the clanging echoed through 
the dark corridors. We were taken into a small office where 
a guard, in broken German, gave us instructions. 

15 



"Take off your belt and take the shoestrings from your 
shoes," he ordered. I had heard that this was standard 
procedure to prevent people from committing suicide, but 
only in the case of real criminals. Criminals! The thought 
whirled around in my mind. Criminals. 

An escort took us to the second floor. I was led to cell 
number 5, my father in another direction. I walked into 
the cell and the guard slammed the iron door. The noise 
reverberated in my mind and through me. Alone, and with 
the noise of that great iron door filling the cell, all the 
feeling of dread that my father's optimism had kept away 
came over me in a wave. I was afraid and alone. The door 
had closed me in. And it had shut the world out. 

In the door was a spy hole, and over the door a barred 
transom. Through the hole I could see my father being 
shoved through a door almost directly opposite. I stood 
for half an hour at the hole, staring at the faceless rows of 
doors. I wondered how many eyes were similarly peering 
through spy holes. 

Then I heard the screams. 

Someone was being whipped. The screams were clear 
but directionless, as though filtered through the thick walls 
of the prison. Later I was able to place the direction from 
which they came; the whippings took place in the "ques- 
tioning room," in a wing of the building. It was at the 
opposite side of the prison from my cell and adjacent to 
one of Dresden's residential streets. 

Suddenly a closer sound of violence slammed into the 
cell block. It came from the fourth floor. By looking 
sharply upward from the bottom edge of the spy hole I 
could see the hallway that ran past the fourth-floor cells. 
As I looked, a cell door opened. Guards dragged a strug- 
gling prisoner out and threw him to the floor. He tried 

16 



MUNCHENERPLATZ PRISON 




Investigation 

Note: The south, east, and west wings were 
bombed at the ends. On the main floor, used 
only in secrecy by the Soviets, were the dis- 
infection cabinet and dark cells. On the mez- 
zanine floor were the reception room for pris- 
oners, prisoners' kitchen, and KPZ cells. On 
the second floor were 30 prisoners' cells, 2 
dungeons, 5 cells for prisoners sentenced to 
death, execution area, investigation rooms, and 
administrative offices. On the third floor were 
30 cells, doctor's quarters, Soviet court, and 
administrative offices. 



to fight his way up, and they pounced on him and pinned 
him to the floor with their knees. Then they stripped him, 
tearing his shirt away and pulling his trousers off in a 
violent tug that left the prisoner tumbled head down in a 
heap against the wall. 

One guard had a short leather whip. The other hastily 
pulled off his belt. Then they began beating the man, not 
slowly and methodically but rapidly and in semifrenzy. 
They kicked him and shoved him along the floor while 
they tore his skin with their cutting lengths of leather. 
His screams were terror-filled and anguished. 

I couldn't keep from watching; the horror of it was hyp- 
notic. Long after the guards had finished, panting, and had 
flung the bloody, whimpering man back into the cell, the 
scene and the sounds stayed on in my mind, even into 
sleep. 

And added to them were new screams from the ques- 
tioning room. 



3 



IT WAS SEVERAL DAYS 

before I realized the most important fact of prison life. 
This paramount concern, riding the days and nights like 
a monkey perched on the head, is food, the belly-craving 
that fills one like a cancer and crowds out everything else. 
On the first morning, it was the scenes and sounds of 
violence that preoccupied. Screams could be heard almost 
constantly from the questioning room. I learned, though, 
that the mind can erect barriers against such sounds, so 

18 



that unless one tries one cannot hear them. Prisoners who 
couldn't shut them out didn't last long. They went mad. 
I was told that one of the many prisoners who attempted 
suicide tried to kill himself in his madness by crashing 
his head against the wall of his cell. 

When food was first brought in to me, I still hadn't 
learned about the domination of the stomach when men 
are made to live like animals. The meal was a bowl of 
coffee-colored soup with a fishy taste. I threw it out with- 
out a second thought. 

The day went easily and without incident. The cell was 
swarming with bugs, and I occupied myself by catching 
them and flipping them into the toilet bowl. At noon and in 
the evening, watery, fishy soup was again distributed, and 
again I poured it out. I told myself I didn't need it. 

Within a very few days I realized how mistaken I was. 
Inexplicably, the food stopped coming. It didn't stop just 
for me; it stopped throughout the prison. There was no 
food for anyone. There was no explanation from the 
guards. "There will be food tomorrow," they said. There 
wasn't. Warm water with a coffee taste was passed out 
instead. Later in the day, the guards brought twenty- 
quart buckets from which they served, as solemnly as if it 
were food, plain warm water, yellowish and without taste. 

Slowly, the stomach took over body and mind. There 
was no food the next morning, only more of the warm 
water. I had never really been hungry before. During our 
entire internment in Germany we had had the same food 
as everyone else in Dresden. Even the worst air raids had 
not deprived us altogether. The Germans never had 
cracked down on rations. 

But now I began to know about hunger, and it was 
frightening. It was not just an emptiness; it was a posi- 

19 



tive, driving force, urgent and constantly on the mind — 
like the urgency of a schoolboy's body as he dreams his 
first pulsing dreams of sex. 

I had to face the situation. I was alone in my cell, with 
no one to talk to, no one to turn to for help, except God, 
perhaps. Would He hear a prayer from me? Would He 
persuade those creatures in the prison corridors to open 
the door and bring me food, or even freedom? I spoke my 
prayers, asking God in heaven to comfort my body and 
soul. 

I am sure many others in those prison walls were ask- 
ing divine help too. And many outside the walls, for even 
the "free" people of Germany had had to pull in their 
belts a notch or two. Food was scarce. Everywhere, the 
Soviet troops had been trampling down stock rooms, 
looting. The stock room in Munchenerplatz prison had 
been full when the Russians arrived, but they had nearly 
emptied it, so that they might trade food for vodka or 
schnapps. Other food reserves had been carried away by 
the soldiers to feed the women they were using day and 
night. I found out later that, at the time we were starving 
in our cells, the guard and officers in my house were forc- 
ing my mother to cook our food for the girls whom the 
Russians brought into the house. 

Three days passed and no food was distributed to us. 
At last, on the fourth day — which was July 31, 1945 — 
a few ounces of bread and some thin soup were handed 
to me; on the fifth day, more of the same, but as I lay 
down that evening I had no idea that on the following 
morning would begin a twelve-day starvation period. 

When it became apparent on the first of those days that 
there was to be no food, loud protests, uncontrolled curses 
and screaming were let loose. They became louder as the 

20 



second, third, and fourth days went by. Men went out of 
their minds, woman prisoners became hysterical. Some 
Moslem prisoners chanted their prayers. 

Then death struck, right and left. Cell doors were 
opened and dead bodies pulled out by an arm or a leg. 
I wondered when it would be my father's turn and mine. 
When I no longer was strong enough to lift my feet off 
the floor, I put myself into the hands of God. 

Some seven hundred prisoners had entered that starva- 
tion period. I was one of twenty-two or twenty-three that 
survived, along with my father. 

Each day, as the guards brought the warm water 
around, they roused the prisoners with a cry of "break- 
fast" or "coffee." If the cry was "breakfast," there would 
be a tense silence as the prisoners waited to see if food was 
meant, or more water. And during those twelve days it 
was always the water. 

On the thirteenth day my cell door opened and a guard, 
as indifferent as if he had been supervising a delivery of 
water, stepped into the cell. From a large container he 
took a tiny mound of bread crumbs wrapped in a piece 
of crumpled paper. The crumbs weighed two ounces. 

I stared at the crumbs for twenty minutes, then ate 
them one at a time. They did little for the aching empti- 
ness, but their dry, tasteless texture started the saliva flow- 
ing, and each crumb was an almost unbearable pleasure. 

At noon, the usual buckets were brought to the cells. 
It was again warm water, mainly, that was ladled out, but 
also it had the aroma of soup. And the bottom of the 
bucket could not be seen through the liquid. It was that 
thick. 

With bread and soup on the menu again, at least some 
of the prisoners who had survived the twelve days of star- 

21 



vation began to feel normal again. They could be seen 
standing and moving in their cells. Others were dying, 
however, from the lasting effects of hunger. As new pris- 
oners were brought in, it was very evident that the "old- 
timers" had built a mental refuge for themselves. Com- 
pared to the horrors of the twelve days, to have a couple 
of cups of weak broth and a piece of bread meant a good 
life. 

My cell was eight paces long and about six wide. It 
had one bed — a metal frame with fiber-stuffed pads for 
mattress. It folded back against the wall when not in use. 
Against one wall was a seatless toilet bowl, flushed from 
outside, and in a corner stood a short-handled broom, 
with which a prisoner was supposed to sweep the cell once 
a day. 

Other men were brought in now to share my cell. I was 
pretty lucky in my companions, and never suffered from 
the overcrowding that was beginning to blight the exist- 
ence of other prisoners. Some cells, of the same size as 
mine, had twenty occupants. 

My first cell mates were a Russian-born doctor and 
a German farm boy. At night, we placed the mats on the 
floor and slept there, reserving the bed for a daytime 
seat. 

Like virtually everyone else in the prison with whom I 
came in contact, they knew of no reason for being jailed. 
They did not know when, if ever, they would be released, 
or even sentenced. This ignorance of our fate was our 
prison sickness, far more curdling to the mind than a 
sentence to death or to a long term in prison would have 
been. 

The third man sent to my cell was a forestry student. 
While I had almost wept with happiness to have the doc- 

22 



tor and the farm lad share the world of my cell, it was the 
forestry student who did one of the greatest services pos- 
sible. For reasons as mysterious as those for which he had 
been imprisoned in the first place, he was released. Be- 
fore he left, I asked him if he could take a message to 
my house, so that my mother might know the whereabouts 
of my father and myself. Despite the peril of going near a 
house as suspect as was ours, he did deliver the message. 

The word he carried meant fresh hope, of course, for 
the family. We were well. We certainly would be released, 
they reasoned. The power of the United States would turn 
the keys and open the doors. It was just a matter of time. 

In prison, of course, one's hopes did not travel so far. 
It was enough that the word of our existence could be 
leaked out. There was no talk of release, or of the future 
from any aspect. I found that it did not take long to start 
thinking like a prisoner. 

The conception of time disappeared from my mind, 
and I could think only as far as this: by God's grace I 
would live or die. Beyond that there was no planning, no 
dreaming, no hoping. The rotation of the earth from 
day to night, from season to season, held little meaning. 
Time was not measured by the clock. It progressed by 
pains, by screams, by weariness, by hunger. 



4 



A STRANGE FEAR RODE 
the entire population of East Germany, regardless of age, 
sex, occupation, or belief. The fear diminished in those who 

23 



were imprisoned by the MVD (the NKVD were renamed 
MVD about this time), but it struck them again with full 
force when they were released. They had supposed that their 
prison experience would have hardened them against fear, 
but this was not so. To these prisoners, let loose in East 
Germany, where the Soviet terror is present on every street, 
release brought no joy beyond the momentary joy of seeing 
loved ones again. 

Every ring of the doorbell, every knock on the door, 
every MVD car passing by brought the fear — the fear of 
being arrested again. When they were arrested again, they 
actually were relieved to be in prison once more. It meant, 
in a twisted, sick way, security for them. At least they 
knew. They didn't have to die inside any more when the 
doorbell sounded. The cell was sure and certain; they 
knew more or less what they could count on. Now all 
they had to worry about were the times the cell door 
opened to bring some change in their prison routine. It 
seemed that this sort of uncertainty, within the rigidity of 
the prison routine and the locked-in vault of the prison 
cell, was better than living in the "freedom" of a land 
occupied by the Soviet terror. 

The things that gave prisoners a sense of security were 
things I came to know well also. There was, for instance, 
the infinite, patient attention paid to the division of food. 
This was particularly painstaking and meaningful in the 
cells occupied by prisoners who helped with the serving 
of food from cell to cell, as I did many times. 

During the serving of, say, barley broth, the prisoner- 
server would have little trouble in saving a cupful or so 
at the bottom of the bucket. This he could bring back to 
his cell, where, with as much care as a diamond merchant 
uses in sorting gems, the men would separate the grains 

24 



of barley. Equal numbers of grains went to each cell mate. 
If a single grain remained at the end of the count, the 
server might claim it. 

There was also the matter of filth. It preoccupied every- 
one. To our Soviet guards, cleanliness was of little con- 
cern. A guard to whom it was, stood out as an oddity. 
For the most part, the guards were like the soldiers who 
had streamed into Dresden to rape and burn and steal. 
They were dirty, ill clad, and untroubled by their condi- 
tion. Few showed any familiarity with modern plumbing. 
In the prison toilets they scattered filthy toilet paper about 
the floor. Often they laughed at the toilets, like children 
seeing a strange, impractical toy for the first time. 

Although necessity brought the guards to the prison 
bathrooms, they had a choice when it came to bathing in 
the prison tubs. By and large, they exercised this by stay- 
ing away. There was a tub for the guards on every floor, 
but when a guard used it, word passed like a joke from 
cell to cell and the prisoners conjectured why the cleans- 
ing had been necessary. 

Conjectures were coupled to the fact, learned from the 
ribald jokes of the guards as well as from prisoners who 
had spent time in the infirmary, that most of the guards 
had venereal diseases. 

For practically all the prisoners, however, the chance 
to take a bath once a week was very important. My father 
and I, along with the few others who had survived the 
starvation regime, had waited six months or more for that 
day, December 28, 1945, when for the first time soap was 
distributed, a bath was made available, and we had shaves 
and haircuts. For the first time we could wash the bundle 
of stained and rotten rags which we called underclothes. 

Bathing was so important to us that we could even 

25 



manage to live with the typically Soviet bathing regula- 
tions. No matter how many men were confined in a cell, 
from the luxurious three or four in my case to the ten to 
twenty in some others, only one tubful of water was per- 
mitted for each cell. For the last man in the tub, this 
meant stepping into a mildly tepid mud that reeked of 
body dirt. A prisoner not hardened to the system some- 
times became ill as he stepped into the tub — and this usu- 
ally put an end to bathing for the members of his cell. 

To me, using the filthy tub water for bathing was as 
absurd as it was repulsive. The drinking water we got in 
our cells was the best for "spot cleaning." The water of 
the tub was more suitable for washing clothes. 

We were permitted now to have our long, matted hair 
cut. Barbering was one of the miscellaneous skills my fa- 
ther had picked up when he first came to America as a 
Seventh Day Adventist missionary during the Depression. 
He practiced it before he took up his highly successful 
camera business. 

When he told the guards of his skill he was quickly 
appointed to the prison barbering staff. This gave us a 
perfect chance to meet and talk regularly. My father 
became an encyclopedia of prison information. 

One thing we learned through him was the inter- 
changeability of guards and guarded in the Soviet world. 
My father had met the man who had been in charge of 
our arrest, the MVD officer Stepanenko. He was no longer 
an MVD officer. Now he was a prisoner, like us, in 
Munchenerplatz prison. He had been jailed as a direct 
result of his role in our arrest. From our home, where we 
kept a reserve stock, protected from possible air raids, 
Stepanenko had confiscated six hundred cameras. Then, 
as he explained freely, he had put the cameras on the 

26 



black market. He was performing, after all, a simple equa- 
tion in black-market economics. But he had been caught 
at it — possibly by a superior who felt he should have had 
the black-market concession for the cameras. 

Stepanenko was not the only MVD officer on the pris- 
oner list. The former chief of the prison was now a pris- 
oner himself. 

It was a mark of how complete a world our prison was 
that when a former prison chief or MVD officer became 
a prisoner there was no feeling of vengeance toward him. 
The prisoners accepted him as they would any prisoner, 
realizing, perhaps, that Communists are all captives of a 
system more rigid even than prison. When they in turn 
were imprisoned, they moved from one world to another 
with singular good feelings, it seemed. They showed an 
earthy, peasant indifference to their state. 

While this was true of those who were jailed for graft 
or theft, crimes that meant little to their superiors, I was 
later to see that Russians imprisoned for political crimes 
quaked with terror. Stepanenko accepted with a shrug his 
seven-year sentence for black-market activities; had he 
passed an indiscreet remark about the regime, he would 
have been put to death. 

In January 1946, six months after my arrival at the 
prison, I was given my first regular job: carrying water 
jugs and buckets and sweeping the prison corridors. My 
assignment came about, oddly enough, through Stepa- 
nenko, the same who had been in charge of our arrest. 

During a regrouping of the prisoners, Stepanenko was 
put in charge of allocating new cell positions. Our rela- 
tions with him were wholly without bitterness on either 
side, and he volunteered to place me as close to my father 

27 



as possible. His efforts landed me in a cell adjacent to my 
father which was reserved for working prisoners. My as- 
signment to that cell brought me onto the work rolls. 

After two months of carrying water I fell heir to a 
new kind of job, a job that probably was the direct cause 
of my not leaving the Soviet prison system for nine years. 
I was to keep the prison records, and the work began 
when the guards brought a great stack of ledger books, 
writing materials, blanks, and other items. I thencefor- 
ward kept track of all prisoners, of which prisoners were 
in which cells, of their work assignments, of the reasons 
(if any) for their arrest, of the names of the MVD inves- 
tigating officers, dates of interrogation, and other related 
data. 

To do all this, and to continue with my old job of food 
helper, I had to make a daily round of the entire prison, 
with its approximately seven hundred inmates. 

Under Russian management, the records had become 
an almost hopeless tangle of misfilings and incomplete 
information. My administrative training at the camera 
factory enabled me, however, to set up the records prop- 
erly and quickly. Each day, as the records assumed better 
shape and I learned a little more about interrogations, 
charges, and the execution of prisoners, I was digging myself 
deeper into prison. I was becoming indispensable. 



5 



DEATH WAS A DAY-BY- 
day statistic in my bookkeeping at Miinchenerplatz prison. 
Regularly I received a list of prisoners who were being 

28 



ordered to appear before the prison court. The lists were 
written in red ink, in keeping with the official color motif 
of the Soviet court system. Everything about the system is 
red. Red cloths cover the court tables. Red hangings 
muffle the rooms. 

At Munchenerplatz, the red-draped room used for court 
proceedings was kept fairly dark. A long table, covered 
with a red cloth, dominated the room, and at this table 
the three-man court seated itself. The MVD court mem- 
bers were a lieutenant colonel, a major, and a captain. 
During the court sessions two candles burned in front of 
the lieutenant colonel. 

Trials were not held here. Trials were not held any- 
where. There was only the reading of charges and the 
sentencing. A prisoner was brought into the courtroom, 
the door was closed behind him, and he was made to 
stand with his back against the door, fifteen feet away 
from the long table. Behind the flickering candles, the 
lieutenant colonel would read the charges and the sen- 
tence. An interpreter standing beside the prisoner would 
repeat the words in the language of the "criminal," who 
then was told to step forward to the table and sign his 
approval. He had been told that, if he did not care to 
sign, his refusal would not be held against him. But he 
need not worry; if he didn't sign, "someone else will." 

The entire paperwork of the sentencing was prepared 
in advance; it was merely a matter of reading to the pris- 
oner the list of crimes and investigations, then sentencing 
him. Whatever the charges or the sentence, the same pro- 
cedure obtained. With mechanical informality, a man was 
sentenced to a few years in prison, to a life of slavery, or 
to death. 

I came to realize that among the court members there 

29 



was a sincere indifference to the sentences. With some, 
the indifference was that of tribal Asia, where death is no 
more meaningful than a leak in a sod roof. Others had 
the trained attitude that death simply was a Soviet instru- 
ment of correction. It was the highest form of social hygiene, 
not unlike burning away a slum area or cauterizing a wound. 
These men felt no passion in sentencing people to death. 
They merely were snapping off a light switch. 

On two days in June 1946 the sentencing was particu- 
larly memorable. The guard brought me the lists, on 
which as usual I wrote the cell numbers of the prisoners. 
Each day there were between twenty and thirty names in 
red; all, whatever the charges, were sentenced to death. 
The punishments would ordinarily have been varied to fit 
the crimes; but on those two days the members of the 
court were hopelessly drunk. 

I knew little about theoretical Marxism at that time, 
but in this attitude toward death I sensed the gulf that 
separated these MVD officers from the Christian civili- 
zation to whose extinction they are committed. They be- 
lieve that man is an animal, no more. To kill a man is 
no more significant than to kill a highly trained horse or 
a cow. If the beast becomes unmanageable, it is killed. If 
the man-beast becomes unmanageable, he is killed. 

Although death sentences were passed every court day, 
the executions were carried out once a month. This was more 
efficient than shooting the people one by one, as sen- 
tenced. 

A prisoner sentenced to death was put on half rations; 
since humans are animals, there is little sense in giving 
full rations to one that is about to be destroyed. 

The squad assigned to bring the prisoners to the place 
of execution consisted of a junior-grade MVD lieutenant 

30 



and two enlisted guards. Their procedure was standard- 
ized and, like the sentencing itself, almost casual. When 
the guards came to a cell where a sentenced prisoner was, 
they ordered him to remove his clothes. In some cases 
they forced him to take off everything, in others, an under- 
shirt might be worn. Clothes that were taken from pris- 
oners were heaped on the corridor floor. A guard would 
poke through the piles and pick out the good articles. The 
rest were turned over to me to distribute. 

While the undressing went on, guards and officer would 
joke and laugh, usually over what they thought the pris- 
oners might do to their underwear if permitted to wear 
it to their death. What a waste of laundering it would be, 
they laughed. 

In that joking was summed up a startling difference 
between these guards and the Nazi death squads about 
which those prisoners who had known both sometimes 
spoke. The Nazis, they said, killed viciously, because they 
were convinced that the people being killed were actually 
their enemies. The Russians killed because, almost liter- 
ally, a number had been drawn from a hat, because some 
meaningless document in some meaningless proceedings 
had said to snuff out the candle. No ferocity attended the 
executions. The reasons for the killings were as remote 
and irrelevant to the Russian guards as was the concept 
of death itself. Their joking, then, was not forced. When 
they patted a prisoner's shoulder, the action came easily. 
Life had to end for certain integers in the state table of 
statistics. That's all, comrade. Nothing personal, comrade. 

Horribly, the laughter of the guards marked those days 
more than did the sounds of the killings themselves. 

The process of execution, about which the guards some- 
times boasted because it was so "humane," was simplicity 

31 



itself. After a condemned prisoner had undressed, he was 
led to a partly shattered wing of the prison. As he rounded 
the corner into a corridor of the wing, a guard shot him 
in the back of the head. It was "humane," because it came 
without warning. 

As each prisoner was shot, his body was dragged to 
the end of the corridor. By the end of a day's killing, a 
stack of sprawling bodies, naked or in undershirts, stood 
in the dark and dirty hall. A guard doused the bodies 
with gasoline and tossed on a match. The flames from the 
pyre made a light that often was seen by prisoners in 
other parts of the building. A guard, if questioned, would 
explain that trash was being burned. 

As the smoke from the burning bodies drifted from 
the execution corridor into other parts of the prison, it 
was difficult to make anyone believe that it was anything 
but exactly what it was. On execution days, in many cells 
not even the pitiful scraps that passed for rations were 
eaten. 

One execution day the flames from the cindering 
corpses rose higher than usual, perhaps because of an 
extravagant drenching with fuel. From the burning bodies 
the flames licked up and caught the wood trim, moldings, 
and sashes of the corridor. The guards, idly watching the 
blaze till now, ran for aid. My helper and I were called 
out to haul a hose up to extinguish the flames, but we 
were not permitted to turn the corner into the corridor 
itself. The guards carried the hose into the death corridor 
and flushed the flames from the grisly torch they had set. 

To some prisoners the walk in the corridor probably 
was a relief, as humane as the Russians said it was. These 
were the prisoners who had been tortured. For some time, 
I had known only the sounds of torture. But I learned, 

32 



as I came to know more about the prison during my 
records-keeping job, what it was that produced the shrieks 
and sobs. 

The most common form of torture was the beating 
with strips of thick, lead-wrapped, electric installation 
pipe, covered with heavy insulation. They were about 
one third of an inch wide and two feet long. It was not 
uncommon to see guards strolling around with these 
whips in their hands. In the interrogation rooms, how- 
ever, the pipes were put to their harshest use. 

The questioning involved the victim, an investigating 
MVD officer, and an interpreter. Oddly enough, it also 
usually involved the proposition that the victim was inno- 
cent of whatever charge the Communists had brought 
against him and to which they wanted him to confess. The 
regularity with which this was true seemed at first a night- 
mare, without rhyme or reason. I soon learned, though, 
how sensible it was, from the Communist point of view. 
If a person was indeed guilty of something, the Commu- 
nists usually had little trouble proving it. At least, they 
had facts enough at hand to warrant a passable charge. 
But if the person was innocent, the whip would pound 
and lash the desired "guilt" into the person's back 
muscles, nerve fibers, mind, and consciousness. 

I helped to carry one of the beaten prisoners to his celL 
He had been whipped with his shirt on. His skin was laid 
open from the ridge of his shoulders all the way to his 
belt line, and the shirt had been ground into the raw 
meat of his back. For an hour, with the doctor who also 
was a prisoner, I picked bits of shredded cloth from the 
wounds, trying always to pick bloody cloth rather than 
the slivers of split red flesh. When we had finished clean- 
ing his back, we wrapped him in strips of toilet paper, 

33 



the prison dispensary's gesture toward providing medicine 
for the man. 

More complex and subtle, and I always have thought 
more damaging, was the torture of the disinfecting cabinet. 
This was a large, boilerlike metal cabinet in which, under 
the German prison administration, mattresses had been 
disinfected — a cleanliness undreamed of in any Russian- 
administered prison at that time. 

Prisoners being moved through the corridors or going 
about prison work were able to see this looming presence, 
with its high-pressure steam pipes and valves. What they 
did not know, if they were new and had not circulated 
among the veteran prisoners, was that the disinfecting 
tank was no longer connected to receive steam. It was 
these new prisoners that went to the tank for their torture. 

A prisoner was thrown into the tank by guards who 
were being purposefully rough to intimate that severe pun- 
ishment was underway. Inside, the terrified prisoner 
watched the steel hatch swing shut and heard the boom- 
ing clang as the locking mechanism turned and the bolts 
seated themselves in their slots. 

In the total interior darkness, the prisoner could only 
expect a searing jet of steam or a choking cloud of poi- 
sonous gas to be pumped in. And so he would be left 
for a full day or two, the door never being opened. 

After this ordeal, several prisoners were taken from 
the tank completely mad. No person ever emerged without 
serious nervous consequences. Most came out of it with 
hair turned gray. All were willing to confess to whatever 
the Communists wished them to confess. 

Another psycho-physical torture method was used of 
which I had heard, although I never saw the place where 
it was carried out. I have, however, seen prisoners brought 

34 



back from it. A deep pit, possibly used at one time as part 
of a drainage or garbage-disposal system in the prison, 
was filled with water to knee height. The victim was 
placed in this pit, standing with his clothes on. Every 
half hour a pail of water was thrown over him. First there 
was the tense waiting, and then the wet shock. Both 
grew progressively worse. As the water level rose, by pail- 
fuls, from knees, to hips, to waist, a slow horror welled 
within the man. Finally he was ready to confess anything 
that was expected of him. 

The very system of Communist arrests inevitably led 
to a system of torture that was as much mental as physi- 
cal. Arrests were made to terrorize the citizens, in sweep- 
ing, indiscriminate raids. Men were arrested as they 
walked the streets, as they dined or sat in the homes of 
friends. They were arrested anywhere, anytime, without 
explanation. Everyone in the city was kept poised on the 
edge of terror. 

There was a plan to it all, and it was remarkably effec- 
tive even beyond its terrorizing results. When a load of 
prisoners newly yanked from home and street were thrown 
into cells, the first topic of speculation naturally was "Why 
was I arrested?" They would search their memories for 
minor infractions and even for unvoiced thoughts antago- 
nistic to the Communists. A cell full of prisoners might 
talk for hours about these things, elaborating upon point 
after point, seeking always a clue to their arrest. There 
was, of course, no clue. But in every cell was a Commu- 
nist police informer, patiently listening as the prisoners 
spelled out possible grounds for Communist charges. It 
was the unfortunates who could find absolutely no reason 
whatever for their arrests that were passed on to the body- 
and-mind-racking torments of lash and tank and pit. 

35 



. A torture of humiliation for us all was the regular weekly 
search, when guards would sweep through the prison and 
pick over our personal belongings. These had been thrown 
to the floor, and contraband or any article that might seem 
desirable to the guards was taken. We then were forced to 
kneel down and sort out our pitiful belongings. To see the 
paltry scraps of one's only personal life — shreds of soap, 
a wad of toilet paper, a saved crust, an extra pair of torn 
socks — thrown on the floor and then to have to scramble for 
them was a brutalizing experience. I came to dread it as 
others must have dreaded an expected new ordeal with the 
whip. 

The severity of these searches depended upon what 
day of the week they were carried out. In midweek they 
were routine and without incident. The guards came in, 
belongings were heaped, and the recovery scramble began. 

But if an additional search was held, on Friday or Sat- 
urday, beatings and other abuses were added. This was 
a result of the MVD indoctrination course. Every Friday, 
all MVD officers and guards were assembled for ideo- 
logical lectures. After the lectures, the guards toured the 
cells, grabbing prisoners at random, asking incredible 
questions, and administering beatings to any who could 
not answer — and no one ever could. If, during these ses- 
sions, a search was ordered, every cell could expect a 
hard time. The guards would take special pains to rip 
and tear the articles they threw to the floor. They walked 
over things, crushing, perhaps, a treasured pair of glasses' 
or other breakable object. When prisoners stooped to pick 
up their things, the guards might kick them. Prisoners 
were thrown bodily from cells and smashed against walls. 

There seemed to be only one defense at these times 
of special abuse. Prisoners who cringed before the guards 

36 



were kicked, beaten, spat upon. Prisoners who suddenly 
turned on the guards and struck out at them were taken 
away for hours of extreme torture or were killed. But those 
men fared best who went through the indignities calmly and 
stoically, without cringing or losing their tempers, apparently 
with an inner conviction that the Communist animal terror 
could not break them. The Communists could not cope 
with men, it seemed to me, who insisted on remaining more 
than the animals which Communists regard men to be. 

Day after day I witnessed the torment and terror dealt 
out to my fellow prisoners. I, myself, being too useful to 
be submitted to more than the common humiliations, 
never knew when my turn might suddenly come. My work 
kept me busy from 7:00 a.m. to past midnight, and I 
had little time to let my thoughts wander too far back 
or too far ahead. I was aware, of course, that I nevei 
could leave this prison without undergoing the investi- 
gational process. On the one hand I dreaded to see it 
come, because it was bound to involve terror and ill treat- 
ment. On the other hand, I preferred an end, with fear, 
to fear without end. All that could save me from either 
was a change in system, but what prospect was there of 
that? 

The time came when a wave of efficiency swept through 
Munchenerplatz prison. The fact that prisoners had been 
there for months without sentencing had finally been 
brought to the commandant's attention by an aide. This 
aide, ironically, had been thrown into a cell for a time 
as punishment for some indiscretion. It was then that I 
had a chance to talk with him and mention the growing 
backlog of unsentenced prisoners. That I, for instance, 
had been in for thirteen months came as a distinct sur- 

37 



prise to him. When he was released, he relayed my infor- 
mation to the commandant. Within a few days all my 
records were ordered ready for inspection. 

MVD General Klebov himself showed up to handle 
the inspection. He set up office in a storeroom, and 
through one whole night long lines of prisoners stood, 
waiting for an interview with Klebov's staff as the sentenc- 
ing procedure was reviewed. After that, a new system of 
interrogations was established: they were carried out in 
shifts. Within two weeks all but 250 prisoners had either 
been executed or sent to concentration camps to serve 
sentences elsewhere. 

The thought that my turn to be interrogated was in- 
eyftably approaching was constantly with me. When it 
came, it would mean execution or transfer, I could not 
decide which. I knew it would be one or the other, of 
course, for my keeping of all the prison personnel records 
made me aware that the Communists hardly would let 
me off scot free. I had personally checked the files of 
21,000 prisoners at Munchenerplatz, and I knew that 
murder and torture were the most common alternatives. 

When my turn for questioning under the speed-up sys- 
tem did arrive, I knew that the Communists were well 
aware of how much I had seen. It was little use trying to 
pretend, as I so earnestly did pretend, that the records- 
keeping job had made no serious impact on me. 

The questioning officer went through a maze of routine 
questions. Then, with a casualness that was obvious, he 
asked what I had heard of my mother and brother and 
what was going on in our factory. When I tried to avoid 
giving a straight answer, he interrupted me: 

"John, you know exactly what the situation is. You 

38 



speak to every newcomer here when you make out his 
records. You know where your mother is and you know 
exactly what is being produced in your father's factory.** 

No accusations were laid against me, and on sending 
me back into the prison hall the interrogator told me 
that they merely wanted to look into my case a little more 
deeply. 

A few days later the duty sergeant came to me and( 
said, "That's all now, John. Hand over all the papers and 
we'll find someone else to do this work." 

The thought came to me that he might be working to 
get me locked up again, for I once had warned him about 
robbing our cells and taking essential property from the 
prisoners for his personal use. 

I was left to myself, but not for long. At 6:00 o'clock 
on the morning of August 31, 1946, a guard came to my 
cell, pulled me out of sleep, and said, "Take all your 
things, John. You're going away." 

"Where to?" was my immediate question. 

"You probably know better than I do where all those 
transports go," he replied. Then, as he looked at my puz- 
zled face, he must have known what I was thinking. 
"Yes," he said, "your father is going with you." 

This, under the circumstances, was a happy surprise. 
Usually they liked to separate relatives and send them, to 
different camps. 

The guard led me along the hall and down the steps 
to the first floor. As I passed a certain door, I stopped for 
a second to look at it once again. Hundreds of men had 
walked through it naked, or nearly so, in their last min- 
ute of life. A few others, including myself, also had passed 
through that door occasionally, accompanied by guards 

39 



We were looking for prisoners' old clothes, blankets, 
sheets, aprons, and other articles. That part of the building 
was quite destroyed. 

Once, I came a little closer to the execution depart- 
ment than prisoners were permitted to do, but the guard 
was friendly and he let me look. I saw only a smoke- 
stained end of a corridor. I acted as if I were not inter- 
ested, and I searched from cell to cell for clothing. Blood- 
stained rags I found which, variously, were once the uni- 
forms of prisoners of war, Danish streetcar conductors, 
and Dutch postoffice clerks. Also there were civilian 
clothes, as bloody as the rest, no doubt remnants of the 
closing days of World War II, when bloodshed was great- 
est. One system did not differ too much from another. 

I recalled another time, also, when I passed through 
that door. I came to the bombed-out end and looked out 
over a pile of rubble at people walking along the street 
only yards away. The guard was in another wing, and 
I could have jumped over the rocks and run out of sight 
in seconds, but I realized at once that, in reprisal, my 
father would have been put to death in the smoke-stained 
corridor. 

As on this last day of August I looked at that door, the 
guard stepped toward me and said in schoolbook Ger- 
man, nodding in the direction of the exit, "Schnell aus- 
gang!" 



40 



6 



I HAD TWO BLANKETS, 

three sheets, a set of work clothes, my business suit, a pair 
of slippers I had made from scraps of discarded blankets, 
and my shoes. Secretly, I had some inch-long bits of lead 
from the pencils I had used in my prison job and some 
tightly folded bits of paper. Finally, I had a short piece of 
string. I used this as a belt, tying together the front loops 
of my trousers with it. 

A guard brought me to the main hall, where other 
prisoners — men and women — were waiting. There was no 
talking. The people sat on their bundles, if they had any; 
If not, they stood uneasily or sat on the floor. No one 
looked at another prisoner. No one knew what was going 
to happen. No one, by an expression on the face or by a 
glance, wanted to intimate the smallest speculation as to 
where he was going to be sent. It was the suspended 
animation of change in a prison. Everyone was hanging 
over the unknown, wishing perhaps that he could wait 
forever and never have to learn what might lie ahead. 

The guards searched our belongings (missing my pa- 
per and pencil leads) and lined us up against the far wall. 
As the line grew, other prisoners were brought in. One 
was my father. I tried not to watch as his things were 
spilled on the floor, rooted through, and pitched back to 
him, He joined the line, and when the searching was fin- 

41 



ished, about forty men and women were there, silent and 
waiting. 

We were taken by bus to the prison camp at Muhlberg, 
forty miles north along the Elbe. My first sight of the 
place told me that henceforth I would be seeing Soviet 
prison life stripped to its essentials, without any of the 
"refinements" offered by a city prison such as Dresden's. 

As the bus slowed, approaching the wire boundaries of 
the Muhlberg prison camp, we could see a huge wooden 
cart being pulled from the camp toward an adjoining 
field by about fifty prisoners. On the cart was a vast 
Wooden tub, about twenty feet long. From the high win- 
dows of the bus we could see that it was filled to the top 
with human excrement. I learned later that the reeking 
mass was from the latrines within the camp. Every few 
days the tub was filled from individual pails and hauled 
to the field for dumping into an open pit. There, as I was 
to find out, relatives of prisoners would wait — after brib- 
ing the guards — for a chance to pass on packages to those 
inside the camp. 

The method was simple. The packages were tossed into 
the excrement tub. When it was hauled back inside the 
camp, prisoners expecting packages would claw down 
into the bottom of the tub to find their gifts. The reeking, 
dripping condition of the packages made no difference 
to them. New prisoners, sometimes, were sickened. But 
they got used to it after a while. 

As we dismounted from the bus, inside the prison area, 
it was obvious that some of the prisoners had virtually 
lost the ability to walk without specific directions being 
given to them. There was no question about where we 
were supposed to go: a group of MVD officers waited for 

42 



us outside a prison building. But most prisoners just 
milled together, soundlessly, eyes downcast, rather than 
follow the guards toward the waiting officers. They had 
to be shoved and shouted into line and on their way. 

I realized once again that death was the least thing to 
fear under the conditions of captivity by the Reds. 

Just inside the compound there were long wooden 
benches. On these we spread our belongings for another 
search. This time a few of the better blankets and shirts 
disappeared. Not all the searching was done by MVD 
personnel. Prisoners, wearing red brassards, officiously 
scattered our belongings also. These were the trusted pris- 
oners, to whom the MVD assigned certain duties. It was 
easy to see why they were trusted, for they were men who 
had been picked up as criminals and wanted to wash off 
their guilt. By cooperating with the MVD, they would 
win the rewards of power, extra rations, and earlier release 
— if they wanted it. 

After the search we were conducted to barracks 32. 
We were to have our first experience of barracks prison, 
as contrasted with cell prison. The building, of rough 
planking, was about 220 feet long and perfectly bare in- 
side. A few windows lighted the place. Along the white- 
washed walls wooden shelves ran, about six feet wide. 
These were our beds. One shelf went along the wall at a 
height of about three feet, another about three feet above 
that. Wooden ladders, fastened at intervals, gave access 
to the upper tier. There was space for about 150 men on 
the shelves; our group, when the women were separated, 
numbered about thirty. Everyone took a luxuriously large 
space on the lower bench. 

Two coal-burning stoves warmed the barracks. Divid- 

43 



ing the barracks down the center was a partitioned area 
'with a concrete floor; in this was a long trough for wash- 
ing clothes and a space for serving food. 

No. 32 was a quarantine barracks, and our stay there 
lasted ten days. My father and I were assigned to No. 10, 
which was jammed. There was space for us only on the 
top shelf, and even so we slept touching the men on either 
side of us. 

One compensation made these first days at Muhlberg 
pass rather easily. My father and I had hours in which 
to talk together. We did not speak any more of release, 
beyond comparing notes on past questionings. Those to 
which my father had been subjected, he said, emphasized 
a line of interrogation that was both frustrating and re- 
vealing. Time after time, MVD questioners had doggedly 
tried to break what to them was the "mystery" of how my 
father had come to be the owner of a large and obviously 
prosperous factory in Germany. Clearly, the Russians 
thought it was part of a plot, for nothing in their expe- 
riences corresponded to a situation such as this. 

My father was born in Germany as Charles Spank- 
nobel. He changed the name to Noble after becoming an 
American citizen. He was a shoemaker by trade, but his 
preference clearly lay toward the activities of the Seventh 
Day Adventist Church, of which his parents were mem- 
bers. As a young man, therefore, he enrolled in an Adven- 
tist missionary school. He was graduated just in time to 
be drafted by the German army for service in the first 
World War. In keeping with the policy of his church, how- 
ever, he refused combat service and was ordained a min- 
ister. At one point he was assigned to Switzerland as a 
missionary. There, my brother George was born. From 
Switzerland, with George and my mother, he was sent to 

44 



America to preach in the Adventist churches. To pay him 
adequately for this, however, was too great a luxury for 
the beleaguered church, and my mother, to help out, capi- 
talized on her hobby, photography, and found a job in 
a photo finisher's shop in Detroit. The Depression was on, 
business was bad, and the proprietor wanted to close up. 
My mother, the last employee to stay on, was prepared 
to do what she could to keep the business going. The pro- 
prietor was killed in an accident in the West, and the busi- 
ness was scheduled to be sold. My father managed to 
scrape money together to buy it, and they put their heads 
together to try and make a go of it. 

The venture worked out well, and by the early 1930s 
we were perfectly solvent. My father was even able to go 
back to Germany for treatment of a serious gall-bladder 
ailment. While there, he invested wisely in industrial prop- 
erties. In 1937 he bought the KW-Praktiflex camera fac- 
tory in Dresden. A year later he brought the entire family 
over so that they could be with him while he got things 
started. Also, with this arrangement, he would be able to 
complete a projected two- or three-year treatment of his 
disability. Then war trapped us. 

That was all there was to it, but it was beyond the con- 
cepts of the MVD. They were convinced that we were in 
league with the Nazis, with the American warmongers, with 
somebody sinister. How otherwise could one own a fac- 
tory? 



45 



7 



MUHLBERG WAS LIKE A 

^ast sewer, with rotten things, the prisoners, floating in it. 
Rottenness seemed to touch almost everybody. 

The filthiness of the prison and its inmates caused boils 
and lesions, which, according to rumor, could be cured 
if scraped and then laved with human urine. It was not 
uncommon to see a man hunched at the end of the trough 
that carried urine from the latrine to an open cesspool 
outside. The man had so positioned himself that the urine 
would flow over his sores. The "cure" often developed into 
a horror of infections. 

Sexual practices, both normal and abnormal, were 
crude and animalistic. Homosexuality was rife through- 
out all the camp and among both sexes, particularly the 
younger people. When an entire barracks building had 
been turned over, as an experiment, to an indoctrination 
course in communism, the young men whom the Russians 
hoped to instruct demonstrated that they had no interest 
in any ism but homosexualism. They were brutal in their 
performance, unmanageable as a group, and immune to 
instruction. 

Muhlberg's "normal" sexual activity centered for the 
most part in barracks 12, which was used as a storehouse 
and a sewing room for the repair of flour sacks. By and 
large, it was very well managed. I had fleeting opportu- 

46 



CAMP 



| Officers' Quarters | 



MUHLBERG 



(53 



TV 



J Garage 



| Dentist | Q 



| Barber 



:hen| I 



| Dispensary j | 
VI | | | Morgue 



D 



-Lln.r 



Kitche 



Officers' 
Garden 



] | Surgery | 

"I I Hospital I 
-J L Kitchen J 



Women*s-^"v 

I 



Chemical 
Laboratory 

Soap 
Factor r 



nities of visiting it, to pick up onions and other store sup- 
plies, having volunteered to work in the food-supply sys- 
tem of the camp. Scores of other prisoners, I can attest, 
had time for more extended visits. 

Ten girls were assigned to barracks 12 as seamstresses 
to repair the flour sacks which were a vital item of prison 
economy. Whether the girls were picked by guards al- 
ready familiar with their sexual prowess, or whether good 
raw material was sent to be trained, as it were, on the 
job, I never learned. But each of the ten girls was a 
whore of consequence. 

Two guards were assigned to barracks 12. The unvary- 
ing daily routine was that the guards should be taken 
care of first, on the flour sacks in the rear of the building. 
After that, the guards seemed to have no interest what- 
ever in the traffic flow in and out of barracks 12. Fortu- 
nately for those of us who had time only to eat, to devour 
an onion hungrily and thankfully, they also were lax 
about watching for stolen things. 

The price of sexual services in barracks 12 was meas- 
ured in food. Money had little meaning. Indeed, one of 
the girls was called Drittel Brot, Third of a Loaf, which 
was her price. Onions and flour, which were stored right 
there, in the barracks, had little standing as currency. 
Pastries, made on smuggled time with smuggled flour by 
the prison cooks, were the real gold pieces. 

Yet, for all the food that the girls wanted, it was obvi- 
ous that sex itself was an independent appetite. For the 
sturdy prisoner with no food but with a raging passion, 
there was always a girl willing to throw herself on the 
flour sacks free. Sometimes, as partial payment for such 
charity, the lusting prisoner had to submit to letting the 

48 



other girls watch, and perhaps joke or comment on his 
performance. 

One of the leaders of the sewing circle was known as 
the False Countess, because she boasted of having been 
arrested during her wedding to a Polish count. She was 
quite ugly but was possessed of an energy that apparently 
impressed the Russian guards. Indeed, given the choice 
between a beautiful woman who was passive or, perhaps, 
who required persuasion, and one who, like the False 
Countess, was ugly but shy of underthings and great for 
sitting on steps, the Russians almost invariably chose the 
indelicate but available. 

The False Countess was not only available but aggres- 
sively so. With another of the barracks- 12 girls who was 
nicknamed, for subtle anatomical reasons, The Horse, 
she was arrested for rape on the charge of a guard who 
said that the pair had grabbed him, thrown him to the 
floor, and ravished him as he made his inspection of the 
barracks. After three days in the camp prison the two 
girls began a thriving practice among the guards there. 
Women guards then were placed at their cell. The two 
girls escaped. Their first act was to fling themselves into a 
pond and call for help. A young prisoner working on the 
bank splashed in after them, but before he had gotten them 
out of the shallow water, the girls had torn his pants off. 

Once, when I went into barracks 12 for supplies, I saw 
a new girl there, British and quite good looking. On sub- 
sequent trips I noticed that she always was hard at work 
sewing. She seemed an amazing exception to the table of 
organization in barracks 12. The reason for this I soon 
learned. In another prison she had been saved from 
death by a Russian woman doctor, who had later taken 

49 



her on as a maid. After a few weeks, the Russian ex- 
plained an additional service she wanted the girl to per- 
form, namely, to whip her. The Russian woman's sexual 
abnormality consisted of a desire to be whipped. After a 
while, the British girl came to share it. Hence her distinctive 
conduct in barracks 12. 

The commandant of the prison was a proper person 
for the job, a sick man in a sick place. His delight was 
theatrical entertainment, but it was far from a healthy 
delight. Prisoners with entertainment background were 
carefully screened out of each incoming roster. If their 
act or skill required props, guards would be sent to fetch 
these. 

The director of a Leipzig nightclub was in charge of 
camp entertainment. Each night he delivered a stageful 
of acts for the commandant and his staff. Jugglers, sing- 
ers, dancers, anyone who could perform in any way were 
ordered on stage. Some sang or danced in their filthy 
prison clothes. Next might come a ballerina, her legs 
hunger-shrunken to knotted sticks but her tutu as neat 
as the petals of a flower. The horrid contrasts on the stage 
didn't seem to bother the commandant. At each act, good,, 
bad, or indifferent, he applauded along with his staff. 

That wasn't the worse part, though. Behind the Rus- 
sians in the theater each night were rows of prisoners, ad- 
mitted to give the theater a gala, packed look. Besides, 
stinking, the prisoners were starving. But nothing mattered 
to the commandant; not the prisoners, some dying, who 
performed on the stage, nor the skeletal ranks in the rows 
behind. 

After a while, the commandant felt the urge for a new,, 
brick theater to replace the old wooden structure. Pris- 
oners, of course, built it. Several died at the work. All were: 

50 



beaten to speed things along. But the commandant had his 
shows, each night. 

Carefully sewn into one of the belt loops of my pants 
was a 1000-mark note that I had managed to keep with 
me from the time of our arrest. My father and I heard 
that cigarets could be bought from the guards if one had 
money. Neither of us smoked but we knew that with ciga- 
rets we could barter for food. One entire day's ration of 
bread could be purchased from the camp bakery's black 
market for one cigaret. 

The 1000-mark note began to represent a storehouse 
waiting to be tapped. My father and I had never even tried 
to bribe our way past a head waiter, but now we began 
to concentrate on converting money into bread. 

One by one, my father and I casually questioned prison- 
ers. Did anyone know of a way to get cigarets for German 
currency? We found our man. The going rate, he said, 
was one mark per cigaret — but a 1000-mark transaction 
was too great a risk. The source of the cigarets? A Rus- 
sian guard, of course. 

Finally we arrived at a workable agreement. We would 
get 200 cigarets and the guard would obtain change. The 
go-between was to get 200 marks. For a moment we wor- 
ried about the possibility that the guard or the go-between 
would simply take our money and that would be that. 
But we realized that such an action would be short- 
sighted for shrewd businessmen, and the guards were just 
that. Running the risk of spoiling a long-term lucrative 
traffic for one quick profit would be absurd. The notion 
that Communist adherence to anti-capitalist principle 
would hinder such a transaction never occurred to us: so 
far, we had not met a single guard who seemed in any 
way involved with Communist ideology. They were simply 

51 



guards. They could have been guarding the prisoners of 
any system, capitalist, Communist, Socialist, Fascist, and 
would have behaved the same. 

The day for the big trade arrived. We turned over the 
1000-mark note. The go-between went off to meet his 
Russian friend. He was back at dusk. He had our cigarets 
all right, but he also had a new arrangement. Instead of 
change, which we really didn't want, we would get all our 
money in cigarets, over a period of months. The first 
installment of 200 was handed over on the spot. 

"Think of it," my father said as he picked up the card- 
board box in which the cigarets were stacked. "There's 
two thirds of a year's bread ration in that box." It seemed 
a bit comic. 

By October it seemed less comic and more grimly im- 
portant than ever. Rations were cut in half. The German 
army stores which had been used to feed the prison so 
far had finally run out. Now the food had to come from 
the Red army itself, and that military colossus simply 
didn't have enough to waste on prisoners. 

When the cut was announced, most of us blamed it 
first of all on Russian arrogance — on not wanting to waste 
Russian food on foreigners. Those of us who remained in 
the Russian prison system soon discovered a different 
reason. It was part of the harsh, hollow truth of the So- 
viet. The country is insufficient in all respects, in food, in 
production of its resources, in industry. There simply isn't 
enough of anything — except political indoctrination and 
power — to go around. The Soviet Union is a land of short- 
ages and of hungers. 

It is strong only in its ability to awe the rest of the 
world and to bluff its way to a position of dominance. For 
the prisoners, it was an academic question as to how the 

52 



Soviet was strong enough to hold its prisoners from every 
land on earth. It was enough that it could be done and 
was being done. 

When the food cut was put into effect, the cigaret price 
of bread jumped by four. Still, the cigaret fortune we had 
acquired kept us going rather well. Some 400 cigarets 
had been delivered to us by Christmas time, and we felt 
we could splurge on a bonus of fifty to a cook who prom- 
ised to provide extra rations every day, beginning with 
Christmas dinner. 

It was while we were waiting for our black-market treat 
that I saw the procession of the dead through the camp. 
It was an extraordinary march. Seventy-two persons who 
had died on Christmas Eve were being carried by other 
prisoners to a trenchlike grave outside the prison area. 

I looked at each of the corpses being carried past, 
and at each of the prisoners carrying them. It was just 
light enough to see each man clearly; between the features 
of the living and those of the dead I could hardly distin- 
guish: shrunken faces, empty eyes, and gray, ashen skin. 

The procession passed by the only tree in camp, a 
conifer in front of the prison staff building. The tree had 
seemed a symbol of Christmas. Seeing it now, as the dead 
passed by it, I became sickened by the thought of our 
Christmas dinner. For every one of our black-market 
cigarets, I realized, we had taken food that might have 
gone to someone else — perhaps to one of the dead men 
I had just seen. 

I spoke to my father about it, and we agreed to canctt 
our black-market arrangements. The privilege we had 
bought had not been bought with cigarets, really. It had 
been bought with greed and thoughtlessness. 

I ate alone that night in the stable, where the prison's 

53 



work animals were kept. There were grain husks spilled 
on the floor. They seemed more than enough. 



8 



RISING ABOVE THE 
squalor and even degeneracy of Muhlberg was the dedi- 
cation of two groups of men, the clergy and the physi- 
cians. The Catholic priests and Protestant ministers did 
far more than attend, under greatest difficulties, to their 
proper churchly duties — masses said quickly in the corner 
of a barracks, a sermon preached and a hymn softly sung 
behind the latrines. The priests and ministers performed 
their greatest work, I think (for those who had not be- 
come oblivious, rutting, feeding animals), by their hu- 
mility. No job was too mean for them. To the humility of 
each job, whether amid the filth of the latrines or the mud 
outdoors, these men brought the sure and tremendous 
dignity of their faith. 

If there was one species of armor, and one alone, that 
I could unhesitatingly say would turn the assaults of brain- 
washing and misery and terror of slave and prison camps, 
I would say that that armor was a sure knowledge of God. 
Without that rocklike faith, men or women entering Red 
slavery become no more than what the Communists say 
all men are, animals. 

Another strong force of dedication was that of the doc- 
tors in the camp. In their work they expressed in the 
highest and noblest degree the oath that all doctors have 
sworn to live by. In Muhlberg, the imprisoned German 

54 



doctors sustained and mended the wretched threads of 
life with, literally, love, bare hands, and kitchen knives. 
The sacrifices they made were beyond reason and public 
responsibility. They were the expressions of individual 
charity in the true, loving sense of that word. 

Our prison diet alone would barely maintain life in a 
strong person of good constitution. For the weak, aged, 
and infirm, the diet was a death sentence. Yet many of 
these people lived, walking skeletally on the edge of star- 
vation and collapse. It was the doctors, with jury-rigged 
implements and medicines, who kept them in this world. 

The doctors, as a group, had been permitted to take 
over the rooms which, under the German operation of 
Miihlberg, had been an infirmary but which, under the 
Russians, had become barracks and storage space. The 
Russians permitted this arrangement with the doctors 
through no humanitarian motives. Rather, they saw that 
they themselves might need medical attention, and the 
doctors attached to the Red army were trained to about 
the level of medical corpsmen or first-aid workers. They 
stood in open awe of the German doctors and were, sin- 
cerely, I think, anxious to learn from them. The Russians 
often spoke of their outstanding medical-research figures, 
but their boasts amounted to praise for a mere handful 
of men, which in all probability comprised the entire top 
level of Russian medicine. As in so much else of Russia's 
technology and science, there were only two levels — a top 
level of great excellence but representing a very few per- 
sons and a normal level of little skill comprising the 
vast majority. 

(At Miihlberg, for instance, all prisoners with aeronau- 
tical-design experience were given a chance for extra 
rations by joining a research project. The prisoners were 

55 



given instruments and drawing tables and were told to 
work on certain design problems which, presumably, had 
already defeated Russia's sketchy technology. One pris- 
oner who had only a meager training in aeronautical en- 
gineering was, nevertheless, able to fool the Russian super- 
visors completely and enjoy extra rations while doodling 
at his drawing board.) 

If a Russian officer became ill, he knew that the only 
responsible medical treatment would be available from 
the German doctors. The Russian "doctors" were ade- 
quate, perhaps, for the enlisted personnel, but the officers 
were realistic enough to want genuine medical attention. 

Despite the Russians' self-interest, however, there was 
pathetically little to turn over to the doctors for their use 
besides the space of the old infirmary. There were a very 
few old surgical instruments, one battered operating table, 
and a few stained cartons of medical supplies that had 
somehow escaped the Russians' systematic looting of all 
German medical installations. 

Even with the scanty equipment at hand, however, the 
doctors turned the shambles into a hospital. It was not ill- 
ness alone that they had to handle. There was the more 
insidious and prevalent plague of weakness and malnu* 
trition. A foremost need was for proteins and vitamins to 
fill in the nutritional gaps of a sparse, starchy diet. 

The proteins were obtained from human hair. Each 
day, bundles of hair, clipped from shaggy prisoners, were 
brought to the doctors. With the pressure-and-heat sys- 
tems that they had strung together out of old tubings and 
electrical coils and with the chipped residue of the infir- 
mary's lab equipment, the doctors processed the hair into 
a protein extract. 

56 



For vitamin supplements, the doctors relied heavily 
upon pine needles. These were stripped from the trees 
brought into the camp for the preparation of ersatz wood- 
pulp bread. 

My first experience inside the infirmary came in Feb- 
ruary. While climbing a stockroom ladder, carrying a 
100-kilogram sack of grain, I slipped and fell, injuring 
my foot. When I found that I couldn't walk, I was taken 
to the infirmary. One of the doctors exclaimed, half jok- 
ingly, to see such a healthy specimen brought in. What 
impressed him was my weight. By working in the stock- 
room and availing myself of the perquisites of the job — 
an onion here, a potato there, a handful of grain — I had 
boosted my weight to a "fat" 100 pounds, a mere fifty 
pounds or so below my normal weight. Earlier, I had been 
down to ninety-five pounds, a more normal figure for the 
prison and a weight at which I later was to remain for 
many years. 

While in the infirmary, waiting for my foot to heal, I 
was stricken with appendicitis. Before the opening of the 
infirmary, this would have been a death sentence. I knew 
now there was hope, although I also knew that if the 
doctors operated they would have to do so with instru- 
ments more suitable to a kitchen. But men who can dis- 
till life from hair and pine needles are somehow expected 
to be performers of magic in all circumstances. 

I was taken into the operating room shortly after the 
first convulsion of pain flooded down my side. The room 
was spotlessly clean, even though its walls were chipped 
and flaked, its floor splintered and warped, and its win- 
dows gaping. A bare light bulb hung above the operating 
table. There were no such luxuries as sheets to hide the 

57 



battered old table, its scabs of rust meticulously scraped 
off and its wheels and levers held in place by knots of wire 
and old nails. 

The few instruments that had been left in the infirmary 
were lined up; beside them were the ones that the doctors 
had made themselves. Clamps to hold back incisions had 
been devised from strips of tin can, bent and hammered 
into shape, the jagged edges providing a grip. On the 
clamps, bits of string substituted for chains. Scalpels had 
been made from jackknives and saw blades, painstakingly 
ground and honed to the best edge they could hold. 

Fortunately, there was a hypodermic needle among the 
left-over supplies. With this I was given a spinal anaes- 
thetic. Only after the operation did I understand why the 
doctors had sounded so concerned as they asked me if the 
anaesthetic was working. 

When the operation was over, the doctors told me the 
spinal anaesthetic had been part of a batch brought in by 
a Red officer on whom they had operated. They used a 
portion of it, having no way of knowing whether it was 
good or even how much to inject. The labels were so 
weathered that they couldn't be read, and there was only 
the Russian's word that it even was an anaesthetic. 

The doctors also told me that I was the proud possessor 
of some of the first honest sutures they had been able to 
use since starting surgery in the camp. Previously, sutures 
had been fashioned from the thin wire of electrical heat 
ing coils, clipped and straightened. Mine had been made 
from catgut. More important, they confided, mine was 
the first operation that had been performed without any 
immediate complications. 

These doctors, from some of the finest hospitals and 
research staffs in the world, seemed as proud of having 

58 



conquered the problems of kitchen-knife surgery, of keep- 
ing flies off open incisions, as if they had won a collective 
Nobel Prize. To the prisoners, they had won more pre- 
cious prizes, many times over. 



9 



THE SLOW, TERRIBLE 

odyssey toward the Arctic and slavery began to move 
faster even before I had fully recovered from the opera- 
tion. 

Signs of change began to rustle in the camp like leaves 
before a storm. On the day of my release from the hos- 
pital, a gateway messenger picked me up and took me 
to the gate, and from there I was sent to the prison's spe- 
cial confinement dungeon. My pockets were emptied. 
Again a riveted door clanged shut on me. For the first 
day no one came to the cell except at feeding time, and 
then all I got for my "why?" was a mute shrug of the 
shoulders. 

For the next three days the visits were more frequent 
but the answers just as nonexistent. Twenty or more 
times each day my cell door was opened by a guard — al- 
ways a different one. The routine was the same. "Ger- 
man?" the guard would ask. "Amerikanitz," I would 
reply in one of the very few words of Russian I had 
learned. 

Word had spread through the camp that an American 
was in the dungeon. All the guards wanted to see for 
themselves. I suppose that it was a great symbol, for them, 

59 



of their fatherland's power. It was a great symbol of that 
power for the prisoners as well. 

On the fourth day, an officer named Narajanov called 
me into the corridor. Almost mechanically he began to 
fire questions at me. When had I been in the city of Miihl- 
berg? When had I been to Burgsdorf, the camp's railway 
station? When had I ever been outside the camp to go any- 
where? 

The answer to all was "never," and I had no idea why 
the questions even had been asked. They seemed meaning- 
less. Narajanov grunted at my answers, shoved me back 
in the cell, and strode away. 

For twenty-three days I was able to lie in the cell and 
wonder about the questions. There was little else to do. 
The cell measured six by three feet, the size of a closet. 
A cot took up almost all the floor space. The walls were 
a dead white, and outside the door a 400-watt bulb glared 
day and night until the white of the walls seemed to seep 
through every part of my brain. 

After a while the attempt to ignore the light brought 
on a most acute form of awareness of its unblinking pres- 
ence. No physical discomfort in the cell was nearly as bad. 

Between the walls of each two cells there was a metal 
slot in which wood or coal fires could be built to heat 
the cells. Fires were got going in the slot about seven in 
the morning. By noon the walls were too hot to get near, 
and I gasped in the humid heat, wet with perspiration. 
In the evening the fires were permitted to go out, and the 
outer doors to the cell corridors were opened to let the 
freezing winds whip through. We had no blankets. Each 
night was a chattering, cold, huddled horror. Each day 
was a hot, heavy prelude to the freezing night. 

On the twenty-third day, Narajanov ordered me 

60 



brought to the staff building. My knee, swollen as an after- 
math of the operation and the spinal injection, and un- 
exercised in the cell, made the walk to the building a tor- 
ture. The guard who accompanied me didn't even notice 
as I grunted and shuffled, almost dragging one leg. Most 
prisoners had some locomotive defect, from weakness 
or injury. Mine was just one of many. 

In Narajanov's office I was amazed to hear exactly the 
same three questions that he had asked me in the corridor 
by my cell. Then, after the familiar grunt, he added one 
other: had I ever written to anyone outside the prison? 
With my astonished "no," he had me taken back to the 
barracks. I was "free." I was out of the dungeon and back 
to the normal world of the prison camp. And that was 
exactly the way I felt. All thoughts of real freedom had 
become fantasies. 

This was freedom now. Being able to move more than 
six feet before facing a wall. Being able to speak to oth- 
ers. Being able to huddle beneath one's own blanket. 

(Many months later, from another prisoner, and in an- 
other prison camp, I learned why I had been sent to the 
dungeon. A letter had come to the camp addressed to: 

Mr. Charles A. Noble 
and Mr. John H. Noble 
c/o Lt. Coin. Saisikov 
Camp No. — 
Muehlberg/Elbe 
Germany 

I have never discovered the origin of that letter; all I 
know is that, according to the stamp, it came from the 
United States. But it is obvious why the letter should have 
disturbed the prison officials. It meant that someone, 

61 



somewhere, was aware of our location. And, by the logic 
of a terror state, it was very dangerous that anyone should 
know the whereabouts of a man who handled more than 
20,000 Soviet police dossiers in a German prison, some- 
one who had been around to count the murders, the kid- 
napings, the tortures, and the starvations.) 

As 1947 ended and I got back into the cocoon routine 
of a prisoner, there came the first evidence of a political 
fact of life that I was to notice many times afterward. 
Through the propaganda of the East German papers that 
were permitted to circulate through the prison we knew 
that the West had stiffened its back for a moment against 
the arrogance of the Soviet. Too, elections of a sort were 
to be held in East Germany — bayonet elections, to be sure, 
but elections that at least had to have some of the trap- 
pings of freedom. 

The impact of these things on the prison was apparent. 
Food was received in better (if not copious) condition. 
Disciplinary raids on the barracks slackened. Every third 
day a spoonful of sugar was piled beside our dinner. 
Even jam and butter appeared. (When this rich food was 
eaten, however, it resulted in violent stomach upsets for 
prisoners whose stomachs had lost even a memory of such 
fare.) 

The most apparent effect of the outside world's events 
was in the release of a few prisoners. They were sent forth 
as evidence of Soviet goodwill. 

Soon it became obvious that the trickle of releases was 
to broaden into a flood. A small enclosure of wire was 
strung inside the main camp area to provide a quarantine 
area for prisoners about to be released. In that area a few 
lectures and some better food were supposed to erase any 

62 



hostile memories the prisoners might have. (Some 8000 
were under the ground outside our electric fences.) 

By mid- 1948 about 7000 prisoners had been released. 
Three thousand, including my father and me, remained. 
Hope that the remainder also would be released rose sud- 
denly, despite the usual prisoner reluctance to be opti- 
mistic about anything. A small force of 200 prisoners 
was cut away from the main body. Their job, we heard, 
was to dismantle the camp. It was being closed! 

The fact that the camp was being ended did not mean 
our imprisonment was also ending. We were merely being 
transferred, and when the location of our new prison was 
announced, I do not imagine there was a single prisoner 
brutalized enough to be totally numb to the suggested hor- 
ror. The new prison was to be Buchenwald. 

As we were transferred we could see many airplanes 
in the sky. They were the planes of the Berlin airlift, shut- 
tling across the skies to bring relief to a beleaguered city. 
There were no planes to bring relief to the enslaved and 
imprisoned. 

Buchenwald turned out to be a relatively brief part of 
the prison odyssey. My job there was making sand — by 
pounding gravel with a carpenter's hammer — and trans- 
portation work. There was the same hunger, the same 
depravity among many of the prisoners, the same hope- 
lessness, the same flarings of brutality, the same deaths 
and punishments. Buchenwald had been branded as a vir- 
tual Nazi abattoir, yet, from prisoners who had been in 
the camp under both the Nazis and the Communists, I 
heard repeatedly that things were even worse now. 

It was at Buchenwald, as a matter of fact, that I heard 
of perhaps the most grossly obscene performance I've ever 

63 



known. To gratify the lustiest of the women in the camp — 
and at their request — a cobbler-prisoner had rigged an 
ample leather phallus to a device built on the frame of a 
bicycle. The phallus, attached to an eccentric drive, op- 
erated through the seat as the "rider" worked the pedals. 

On January 15, 1950, a new release of prisoners began 
at Buchenwald. It was like the last camp and the one 
before. No one was particularly optimistic. No one was 
particularly pessimistic. Even my father who, among all 
the prisoners in Buchenwald, had at least had enough 
energy left to list his complaints forthrightly when a so- 
called "medical inspector" had come by, was overcome 
by general listlessness when it came to releases. It always 
happened to "the other fellow." It was better to feel that 
way. Hope, in these prisons, was just something to disturb 
the stomach and make it churn more around its animal 
feedings. 

Only once, in Buchenwald, did I see the gray of prison 
routine give way to something brighter. It was when, on 
two occasions, the prison authorities permitted regular 
religious services to be held. I say regular, because in the 
somberness of the prison there were always a few who, 
with their priests and ministers, held clandestine masses 
and services whenever possible. Even if they had lost hope 
in human freedom, they never lost the hope and freedom 
of interior faith. 

But when, at Christmas and Easter, regular services 
were permitted, there was a brief, day-long surge of light 
even among the prisoners. Women who had grown used 
to filth and slovenliness cleaned themselves and brushed 
their hair into a semblance of order. Men to whom mud 
and odors were part of the dress of every day brushed 
their ragged clothes and used the water in their wash- 

64 



CAMP BUCHENWALD 




Note: The crematory and dungeon 2 were so used until 1945 
only. The women's TB hospital was an official house of pros- 
titution until 1945. The execution area was so used until 1945, 
and the cemetery from 1945 to 1950. 



basins for something more than a perfunctory dab at the 
eyes. Rumors of freedom never did that for these people. 
Increased rations didn't do it. News of Soviet reversals 
internationally (which were rare) didn't do it. But the 
chance to go before their God again in public did it. 

The Soviet has always called this a weakness. It is per- 
haps the only thing about which they have been wrong 
in judging the Christian world. 

Late in January, just as suddenly as they had started, 
the releases from Buchenwald stopped. Instead, investi- 
gating team?/ went through the ranks of the prisoners, ask- 
ing questions by rote and "arresting" prisoners for whom 
some special fates apparently were in store. 

I was one of those arrested. My father and I were 
separated, not knowing whose lot would prove to be the 
better one. Not for four and a half years was I to learn what 
had become of him. 

Prisoners like myself were taken to Erfurt, some 60 miles 
from Buchenwald. 

The nightmare was unreeling faster. 

In Erfurt we were herded into the basement of a large 
commandeered house. More questions, largely repetitious 
and meaningless, were put to us. We slept on straw-filled 
bags tossed on the basement floor. Outside, an organ 
grinder played the same anguishing tune over and over: 
"Komm zurtick" ("Come back"). 

From the basement, with a suddenness that could only 
be terrifying for people who had lived in timeless suspen- 
sion for so long, we were taken to the prison of Weimar. 

In that prison, by contrast, there was no time. There 
almost seemed to be no life. Prisoners stared blankly at 
the newcomers. No one spoke. In Weimar, as in most 
prisons, news was tapped from cell to cell. If a person 

66 



had a question that he wanted answered by a faraway 
prisoner, he could count on its taking weeks to reach its 
destination. I heard that there were Americans, British, 
and Frenchmen here. Who were they? Why were they 
here? Would they pass along the word of my presence if 
they were freed? 

As long as I was in Weimar I had no answer to these 
questions. Four years later I was to know their names 
(William Verdine and Homer Cox were two of the Ameri- 
cans), and one even participated as one of my liberators. 
Verdine tried to escape from Weimar, after knocking two 
guards over the head with a pipe. He was caught by the 
last outpost between him and freedom. 

Weimar was, we learned, a prison where sentences were 
passed. I thought back to the many I had noted as an 
aide at Munchenerplatz. Now I knew I would go through 
it firsthand. I tried to minimize it by recalling all the de- 
tails from the other prison. It didn't help. 

The scene, when the day came, was just as I knew it 
would be, but still shocking in its all-pervading symbolism 
— Red flags, red drapes, the secret-police officials at the 
red-covered table. A girl at the table asked the inevitable, 
routine questions of identity and then shoved a printed 
form toward me. It had been filled in at two places. First 
there was my name. Then there was a space with the 
figure "15" written in. 

"What is this?" I asked, pointing to the figure. 

"You have been tried in Moscow and sentenced to fif- 
teen years of slave labor." (The paper read: "physical 
labor.") 

It was like being slapped. I could feel the muscles of 
my stomach begin to give way in a surge of fear. 

"Why, for what reason, on what charge?" I blurted out. 

67 



"If there are any questions," the girl replied curtly, 
"ask them where you will be sent." I was shoved from the 
room. 

Back in my cell, I discovered that my blanket and be- 
longings already had been wrapped and thrown onto a 
stack with the bundles of some forty other prisoners who 
had been sentenced within the same hour. 

I had no chance even to try to contact my father or to 
ask where he was or if he had been sentenced. With the 
others, I was herded into a big room. We were left there, 
with only the barest rations and with no word whatsoever, 
for two days. Then we were packed into police patrol 
wagons. 

Some of the prisoners guessed, from the direction we 
were following, that we were headed toward Berlin. How 
right they were came home to us in the cruelest fashion 
when, at one point, our wagon got lost and drove right to 
the bbrder of the U.S. Zone. Through slits in the side of 
the wagon we could see American soldiers at their posts 
along the street that marked the border. The guard with 
us in the van enforced silence with his submachine gun, 
waving it angrily at us as we jammed up to the slits to see 
the soldiers of the Army of Liberation. 

Our stop was Lichtenberg prison. Whereas Weimar 
prison had been dead with the silence of despair, Lichten- 
berg was a bedlam of terrible and tortured noises. We 
were held there one week. Never, during that time (from 
August 10 to 17), was there a silent moment. We found no 
rest by night or day. 

There was regular torture at Lichtenberg, possibly of 
new prisoners brought in from the Berlin area; there 
wasn't much sense left in torturing the other, well-broken- 
in prisoners. The screams from the torture sessions knifed 

68 



through the prison at all hours. There were the shouts and 
loud gibberings of the mad. Madness was always a great 
factor when there were plenty of new prisoners. Old 
prisoners were those who had not gone mad, who had 
survived and adjusted to their new, mindless life. 

After the seven days of Lichtenberg, I was again hus- 
tled from my cell and shoved into a stunned, fearful 
group of prisoners who, with belongings bundled, were 
waiting like zombies for the next push into an always un- 
known terror. 

The groups of prisoners, this time, were separated into 
bunches of twenty and herded into brick corrals in the 
prison yard. We could see British planes landing at a 
nearby airport. And then the prison trucks rolled up. 

This time we did not go directly to another prison but 
to a railhead. There, in a line of regular freight cars, were 
the prison cars that we were to occupy. These rolling jails 
were disguised as mail cars. Inside, they were partitioned 
into wire cages that would hold about a dozen prisoners 
apiece. Each car of cages held about seventy prisoners 
altogether, with room left over for half a dozen guards. 
Jammed together, inside the cages, with the stench of a 
thousand previous prisoners like a greasy fog inside the 
cars, we began to roll away from the setting sun, into 
the east. 

On August 19 we arrived at Brest-Litovsk and were 
herded from our mail cars across a plank and into regu- 
lar prison cars. These were easily recognizable. We had 
heard about them, often, from drunken guards and from 
those inevitable inmates of every prison who, in their own 
way, manage to learn everything there is to know about 
prison affairs. 

The cars were called Stalopinskis, after a former Min- 

69 



ister of State Security. The Stalopinski is designed and 
built for no other purpose than to transport prisoners. 

As we walked over the plank into the car, we observed 
something else even more striking. The Stalopinski was 
not on the usual European-gauge rails. Its tracks were the 
characteristic broad gauge of the Soviet Union. 



10 



THE INTERIOR OF A 

Stalopinski prison car is very efficiently laid out. It repre- 
sents one of the few real Soviet contributions to design, 
inasmuch as Russia's main industrial patterns are copied 
from those of other nations. The Stalopinski is a Soviet 
achievement, all Soviet. 

Down the length of the car, along one side, runs a nar- 
row corridor through which the prisoners may be herded 
and through which, later, guards may walk. There are 
wire cages on the side of the corridor, extending to the 
far side wall, eight cages to a car. In each cage there are 
three horizontal wooden shelves about six or seven feet 
wide apiece, like large tables extending from the wall of 
the car to the wire of the cage. 

On each shelf five prisoners are laid out like sausages 
on a tray. That makes fifteen prisoners per cage, 120 per 
car. In the "mail" car, with prisoners standing, only sev- 
enty to eighty prisoners could be packed. Getting some 
fifty extra prisoners per car is a genuine, undisputed ac- 
complishment of communism. 

The prisoners were placed on the shelves with feet to- 

70 



ward the wall of the car, heads against the wire of the 
cages. Some lay on their backs, some on their stomachs, 
depending on how they squirmed when ordered onto the 
shelf. My position was stomach down. I was jammed be- 
tween other prisoners, feet hard against the train wall, 
hands at side, chin against the rough board of the shelf, 
and eyes staring straight ahead through the wire into the 
corridor. 

There was no way to change positions, to arch one's 
back, to do anything. Twice a day we were taken out to 
go to the bathroom. At other times, during the day and 
night, prisoners who could not hold themselves would 
whimperingly foul their pants and often also the prison- 
ers next to them. Even in the community of hardship it 
was difficult for some prisoners not to hate the unfortu- 
nates who did this. 

We stayed on those shelves for six weeks as the 
Stalopinskis rolled on, northeastward. 

Once in a while, from my spot on the shelf, I could see 
across the corridor and out of a window of the train for 
a second when the guards drew the curtain back. After 
Germany we had rolled through Poland. The land had 
seemed poor, but it had been tilled and sometimes lovely. 
After Brest-Litovsk, in the Stalopinski, we were in Russia 
itself and the landscape changed. 

It was like a drop back into another age. Instead of the 
farm homes of Poland, only shacks and sod huts were 
visible from the train. Log cabins with burlap window 
coverings, dust, dirt, rutted roads, farm animals grazing 
in the mud beside the huts — these were the marks of the 
Russian landscape. 

Our first stop in the Soviet Union was at Orsha, mid- 
way between Brest-Litovsk and Moscow. The gates of 

71 



the cage were opened, the guards herded us out, blinking 
and wondering, into the sun. No one spoke. No one spec- 
ulated — we were long past that. We just waited, not mov- 
ing until prodded and the way pointed out. Only our 
eyes moved restlessly and furtively as we hunted, not 
for mere sights, but for some clue as to what would hap- 
pen next, some secret clue that might prepare us for a 
sudden blow or a new prison, or even a sudden death. 

What we saw from the train stop (it wasn't even a sta- 
tion) was a wooden town of some 25,000 inhabitants. 
There were no sidewalks. The streets were not cobbled 
but were just rutted paths between board and log build- 
ings. On several corners of these paths there were manual 
water pumps. A few electric-line poles near the station 
were the only reminder that this was a place of our cen- 
tury and not from some past time. 

The guards marched us, shuffling, into the streets of 
the town. Livestock, mostly hogs and goats, crossed in 
front of us as we went into the town area proper. Carts 
drawn by small Panya horses rattled along the streets, 
their drivers hardly bothering to glance at us. Few people 
in the town, as a matter of fact, seemed to consider us 
unique enough to favor with more than casual glances. 
Our clothes, we noticed, were certainly not enough to set 
townspeople and prisoners apart. We all were ragged to- 
gether. 

At open store fronts (there were no windows), heavy, 
often barefoot women in padded blouses haggled over 
bolts of coarse cloth or for pieces of farm hardware. Men 
in visored skull caps, cotton shirts, and trousers that left 
a universal gap of inches between pant-bottom and high- 
shoe top walked about their own business. 

There was, we noticed after we had crossed the entire 

72 



town, one brick building after all. It was the one toward 
which we were heading. Just as the Stalopinski is a sign 
of genuine Soviet progress, so was the lone brick structure 
of Orsha. It was the prison. 

Once through the gates and into the courtyard of the 
prison, we were greeted by a bedlam of shouts from a 
balcony where a group of woman prisoners, their skirts 
lifted, welcomed us with the sort of prison obscenities to 
which we had become accustomed. This time, though, I 
was shocked to notice that some of the women, holding 
their skirts up with one hand, held a child with the other. 
Women were permitted their children — and their excesses 
— in Soviet prisons as another sign of the enlightenment 
of communism's penal "kultur." 

Our quarters in the prison consisted of a single, hall- 
like room into which all the Stalopinski passengers were 
driven. The whitewashed walls were black with a floor-to- 
ceiling patchwork of names, scratched, penciled, and in a 
few cases written in blood. 

I can remember only one of the names on that wall. 
I saw it quite accidentally. The name was partially ob- 
scured but it was either Roberts, Robertson, or Robinson. 
By it was a date of just a few days earlier (mid- August 
1950), and after it was the identification, "Maj., U.S.A." 
Here was another far-from-comforting reminder that the 
power of the Soviet was great enough to snatch other 
Americans from freedom and into the night of the prison 
world. 

Before the doors were slammed on us, a guard shouted 
that anyone else caught writing on the walls would be 
punished. To the packed mob of prisoners, pressed against 
the walls and filling the hall, the unenforceable nature of 
the order provided a moment of high humor. 

73 



That night the humor was removed when a prisoner, 
clumsily climbing onto the cooking vat left in a corner 
as a toilet, toppled the entire vat, spreading its noisome 
load over the floor on which we had to sleep. 

In the morning it was a relief to hear that all prisoners 
were to get a bath and, astounding news, be shaved! As 
the long line began to move into the bath and shaving 
room, however, our joy was qualified. The bathing part 
consisted of a row of pans. The prisoners shucked their 
clothes and squatted or stooped over the pans, splashing 
the water where they thought they needed it most. At 
irregular intervals the filthy water was changed. 

The shaving was as unnerving. A girl barber had been 
assigned the chore. The prisoners were told not to dress 
as they moved to her part of the bath and barbering room. 

Head hair, she trimmed in seconds, down to the scalp. 
Then she removed body hair, as expressionlessly as when 
she was clipping our heads. 

Later, from wise prisoners, I learned that this was nei- 
ther an unstudied vulgarity nor an accident. The Soviet 
prison authorities had long known that for many men 
the ordeal of being exposed to a woman under such de- 
grading circumstances was crushing to morale — should 
there be any random sparks of it left. 

When the bathing and barbering were finished, the pris- 
oners were lined up in marching order again and headed 
back to the cells. 

The Stalopinski in which we had come to Orsha had 
gone on, and we had to wait for a new one. Thus a day's 
rest was granted. 

At that time, in the Soviet Union, every regular train 
carried one or two Stalopinskis as a matter of course, and 
the next day we were marched to the tracks. As we 

74 



waited there, no one even bothered to stare at us, much 
less at the Stalopinskis when they rolled up in the line of 
cars. We were thrown onto our shelves in the Stalopinski 
even as the regular travelers climbed into their cars and 
sat on the benches. 

One thing I noticed now which I had not noticed when 
we first arrived at the station — perhaps because we had 
not come with a passenger train such as this — was beg- 
gars, literally scores of them, swarming around the trai 
crying for food or rubles. 

Our next stop was Moscow, heart city of the Soviet it- 
self. Moscow, like the other cities of the country, was no 
stranger to trainloads of prisoners. 



11 



OUR SHIPMENT OF 

filthy, emaciated prisoners was greeted at Moscow by a brass 
band. 

The band was not for us, but it was right beside the 
point at the platform where we were unloaded. The band 
was playing for a group of children returning from a vaca- 
tion in Switzerland. They seemed very happy as they met 
the prosperous bureaucrats and military officers who were 
their parents. But, just as we had been ignored by the 
ragged people of Orsha, we were ignored by the well- 
padded folk at the Moscow station. 

Even while the band and celebration continued next to 
us on the platform, we were loaded into prison vans. This 
time we could not see where we were going. There was no 

75 



speculation. The idea of being in the capital of the land 
that had imprisoned us was a stilling thing. 

When we alighted from the trucks we were on the out- 
skirts of the city, at the "Red Press" prison, the largest of 
the transit stops in the busy Soviet jail world. Compared 
to the Stalopinskis, the quarters were commodious. We 
were packed into large cells in groups of between forty 
and fifty apiece. Metal shelves served as beds, but the lux- 
Airy of being able to turn over on them was a thankful con- 
trast to the prison train. There were two buckets in the 
cell, exactly similar. One was for a toilet. The other held 
a weak tea and later the soup and porridge that was our 
food ration for four days in the prison. 

For fifteen minutes each day we were marched onto the 
roof of the prison and permitted a 15-minute air-and- 
exercise period inside a wire enclosure. In other such 
enclosures other groups of prisoners milled, getting their 
daily tonic. In the section next to us some 300-400 chil- 
dren, seeming to range in age from about eight years to 
the early teens, took their exercise. 

Only in years were they young. Their pinched, thin 
faces were hard and set. Their eyes were as lusterless as 
any older prisoner's. Their oaths, if anything, were fouler 
and more frequent than those of the older prisoners and, 
in one important respect, they were considerably tougher 
than their elders in the prison. They cursed, defied, and 
even spat at the guards with a spirit we had lost long ago. 
They took their gun-butt beatings better, too, shrieking 
and yelling rather than whimpering in a lumpy huddle. 

Most of them, I learned, were in the prison for "hooli- 
ganism," a term that covered everything from theft to 
assault. (In Dresden prison, I recalled, there had been a 
12-year-old boy sentenced for having murdered a Soviet 

76 



major. That, possibly, had been an act of resistance asso- 
ciated with Red brutality during the occupation. The 
youngsters on the roof, I thought, were far too practical 
for such an action. Their crimes, I was sure, were all 
harshly realistic crimes of profit.) 

Some of the young prisoners, or volke as they were 
called, actually had been born in prison camps, where 
their parents had been confined. Subsequently they had 
been raised in government homes from which, presum- 
ably, they bolted, preferring a life of crime in the streets. 
Once in the Soviet prison system, however, the volke were 
treated just as were the older prisoners. They were, for 
instance, used as slave labor. The entire Kharkov factory 
for the Fed camera, a Russian copy of the Leica, I 
learned, was manned by volke. 

Thinking now about the volke invariably makes me 
shudder. But, then, they were just another detail of the 
nightmare, no more shocking than any other. We were 
introduced to another level of criminal at the Red Press 
prison, and it was a much more meaningful introduction 
than to the volke. These were older criminals. They were 
called blatnois, to distinguish them from the political pris- 
oners such as, until now, had been the only prisoners I 
had known. 

The blatnois, like the volke, were in no particular op- 
position to the system that had imprisoned them. They 
would have been in jail, sooner or later, under any system. 
The fact that they had merely robbed, raped, beaten, or 
even murdered was an extremely important difference. 
Unlike us, they were not "untouchable." They were not 
"degenerate" agents of the Fascists or capitalists. They 
were not saboteurs, spies, wreckers, counterrevolutionaries 
or any of the terrible things that we were. They were not, 

77 



in short, dangerous in any way to the Soviet as such. 
They were, instead, often helpful. 

There was an obvious respect for the blatnois on the 
part of many of the MVD guards, for instance. The blat- 
nois could be trusted. They could even be called on to 
assist the guards. The blatnois wouldn't try to escape be- 
cause, in reality, they had all the comforts and securities 
in prison that they had tried to steal outside. 

One secret of their success was simply that in many 
instances they were given carte blanche to run the pris- 
ons from the inside. So far as "politicals" were concerned, 
the blatnois were boss. The guards would turn away while 
the blatnois beat prisoners. Later I was to see them turn 
away even from murder. The blatnois stole from the pris- 
oners with impunity. They could force entire shifts of 
prisoners to work for them. They were, ironically, pro- 
tected in their crimes by the police! 

Because of the special place occupied by the blatnois 
or common criminals in the Soviet prison system, a few 
are interposed into most groups of prisoners. The ones 
sent to join our group in the Red Press prison left no 
doubts as to their role. In our enclosure inside the jail 
they flung prisoners away from them to clear a good 
space for sleeping. When the food was served, they ate 
first, scooping any scraps of vegetable or solid from the 
soup or porridge. Only when the blatnois were fully fed 
did anyone else approach the food tub. 

The morning after the blatnois came, the first thefts 
were noticed. Blankets, shirts, any riches that had been 
brought from Germany, would disappear as soon as no- 
ticed by the blatnois. When a prisoner tried to reclaim a 
stolen article he faced a brutal beating. Several were beaten 

78 



before we learned that the blatnois were not to be ques- 
tioned or disobeyed. 

From Red Press we were trucked back to the railway 
and to the Stalopinski. The blatnois, although they had to 
lie on shelves like the rest of us, were not packed five to 
a shelf. Even in the Stalopinski they had special privi- 
leges. 

We arrived at Vologda, three hundred miles to the north, 
reputedly the oldest prison in the Soviet, a tower-studded, 
looming fortress of a place. 

We were taken from the train to the prison in trucks. 
One overturned. The injured from the wreck were shoved 
into other trucks. A few crumpled bodies were simply left. 

At Vologda we were taken to the basement of the 
building and into a single large cell. These old prison 
walls had served in the time of Catherine the Great, a 
harsh ruler in her own day. 

We had hardly settled down when the rats started 
creeping in from all corners. We dared not kill one, for 
fear the others, smelling blood, might take revenge. All 
we could do was to share our bread rations with them to 
keep them from creeping up to us. 

We had not been there long when a door swung open 
and an officer entered and demanded loudly, "Who has 
had clothing stolen by the blatnois on the way here?" 

There was dead silence. Could this be a trap? Were 
they looking for squealers? I looked around at the blat- 
nois who had been with me and who I knew must have 
stolen from me. They sat calmly, their eyes fixed on me 
to see how I would react. 

Five or six Germans reported they had been robbed. 
Before leaving the cell with them, the officer turned to me 

79 



and said, "How about you, Noble? They took a lot from 
you too. You'd better come and see what belongs to you." 

The bandits had, indeed, taken a good deal from me, 
but was it worth claiming? I might, in the long run, have 
to pay a high price for its return. 

Before I knew it, I was up and going through the door. 
We were taken to the office of the commander, where we 
saw a big pile of clothing. As I entered, I caught a glimpse 
of the commander leaving through the back door with 
two of my shirts under his arm. 

"Johnny," I said to myself, "you'd better watch your 
step." If only I could speak and understand their harsh 
language I could work my way through this jungle of sly 
crookedness. 

I picked up a sweater, underclothing, a coat, and some 
small articles the blatnois had stolen from me. They were 
practically all I had had; I had come into possession of 
them only a short while before I left Buchenwald. They 
had belonged to men who now were resting in the cold 
soil outside the camp. Even so, I had more right to them 
than these crooks had. 

I turned, ready to go, when the whole gang of blatnois 
was led in. We were asked to point out who had stolen 
from us. When it was my turn to tell, all the blatnois had 
already been accused by others. I merely said that most 
of them had been around me in the train, and I could not 
be sure that it was one or the other. 

When we all were back in the cell, I could sense that 
the robbers were bent on revenge. This was not to come 
until later. 

We were taken back to the railroad tracks and loaded 
not into Stalopinskis but into regular boxcars. They 
seemed like luxury coaches by contrast. 

80 



But once the doors were slammed shut, the blatnois 
took over. The dozen blatnois among the seventy prison- 
ers in the car began a thorough search. Everything they 
had stolen before went back into their possession. No one 
resisted. 

Then the punishment started. At random, the blatnois 
selected prisoners who had reclaimed stolen goods. I was 
not, fortunately, among them, since, in their opinion, I 
had handled myself decently. They merely demanded a 
sweater from me to prove their authority. 

One man who had scrambled onto one of the four 
sleeping shelves at the end of the boxcar was hauled out 
by the legs, his head crashing onto the floor, where he was 
kicked unconscious. 

Another man was held up against the wall and beaten 
unconscious, until his dead weight dragged him to the 
floor. Then another prisoner was grabbed, stood up in 
the same place, and beaten until he fell. No one moved. 
Everyone watched, silent, unprotesting. 

At our next toilet stop, four of the beaten prisoners were 
taken from the train and left, presumably to die from ex- 
posure and loss of blood. 

The fact that the guards didn't blink an eye at the 
brutality of the blatnois was warning enough that the re- 
turn of the stolen goods had been some odd exception, a 
repetition of which might never occur. 

One of the prisoners with us in the boxcar was a 
Russian-Chinese who was familiar with the course the 
train was taking. He had been in the Soviet north before — 
as a free man, not a prisoner. 

The man had been in business in Harbin when the Soviet 
consul there had persuaded him that an outstanding ca- 
reer would be available to him as a plant manager in the 

81 



glorious Soviet Union. High wages, payment of all ex- 
penses, prestige such as few in China could envision were 
some of the lures proffered. When the Russian-Chinese 
asked if he could take a piano along for his musically 
inclined daughter, the consul laughed. Why, everyone 
knew, he said, that far better pianos, for far less money, 
could be obtained in the Soviet Union. 

The Russian-Chinese was assigned as an official of a 
chemical plant at the town of Molotov in the Urals. There 
were, however, a few flaws in the dream world that had 
been promised. For one thing, his pay was just one third 
of the promised reward. Instead of luxury and a "peo- 
ple's" piano, he was given a one-room apartment with a 
kitchen shared by five other families. His daughter, in this 
new communal environment, was soon sleeping with a 
notable succession of young Communists. Although the 
daughter was soon quite contented with the good life in 
the Soviet, and in the dormitories of the Soviet's young 
heroes, the father was unhappy. When his time came, the- 
oretically, to choose between staying in the Soviet or re- 
turning to Harbin, he chose Harbin. Within a few days he 
was on his way into the prison circuit. 

We also had in our group a woman prisoner. We did 
not see her, however, after we switched to the boxcar. She 
traveled with the guards. Sometimes, above the clatter of 
the train, or during toilet stops, we could hear her as the 
guards, in shifts, "entertained" her. 

During the trip, whenever we stopped on a siding to 
let another train pass on the single-line track, several 
guards walked outside the car banging on each board 
with mallets to assure that none was loose. The hammer- 
ing was maddening. Once, when we were on a siding for 

82 



an entire day, the guards kept up the nerve-shattering 
tattoo almost constantly. It seemed to be fun for them. 

On these occasions, when the banging stopped it 
seemed a great relief. For a time the prisoners would talk, 
or shuffle their feet, or strain their eyes at cracks in the 
car wall to see the bleak landscape. After a few minutes, if 
the train still hadn't started — and stops of several hours 
were most common — the silence would start. The wind 
would sigh through the car. No prisoner would have any- 
thing else to say. The blatnois would be hunched by them- 
selves. It was then, I suppose, that most of us realized how 
utterly lost we were. We had only rumor to tell us our des- 
tination. We had only our fears to tell us our future in any 
direction. 

There, in the silence of those stops, we realized the 
most desolate thing that a human can know — that no one 
cared about us and that no one could do anything about 
our plight. It was as though the Soviet had made time 
stand still and paralyzed history itself. 

In the silence, once, a man suddenly shrieked and 
buried his head in his arms, overcome with despair. 

The shriek died away. Only the cold Russian wind was 
left. 

During these weeks of travel, the utter monotony was 
broken every now and then when one of us would see, 
through a crack, a new prison compound. Some were 
crowded with men, others with women; some showed no 
sign of life at all. 

As we rolled onward, day after day, the hours of light 
became fewer and the dense forests faded away. Pine 
trees had become shrubs; birch trees were thin and 
spotted. Bushes and grass were sparser. 

83 



We arrived at a forest — a forest of poles and barbed 
wire. It covered part of a plateau which was open only 
toward the north and northwest, being otherwise sur- 
rounded in the distance by the snow-covered peaks and 
slopes of the Ural mountains. We had penetrated far into 
the north, beyond the Arctic circle. We were in Vorkuta. 



12 



WHEN THE ROLL 

call at the Vorkuta railroad siding was finished, the Russian 
NCO barked something like "Shagom marsh!" It sounded 
like "get going" in any language. We crossed the tracks 
and walked two abreast toward a small group of buildings, 
which I later learned was the peresilka, the transit camp 
for new arrivals. The MVD guards with submachine guns 
and two police dogs took up the rear. Suddenly, a guard 
shouted an order. 

"What did he say?" I asked the man beside me. 

"Not to turn our heads or look back or try to break 
line. If we do we will be shot." 

Inside the peresilka I was given a two-minute examina- 
tion by a female doctor and pronounced fit for heavy-duty 
work. I was issued the slave outfit common to all Russia, 
a blue cotton-padded jacket (bushlat), cotton-padded 
pants, and a cotton hat (shapka) that had flaps for the 
ears. Across the hat and on the upper right leg of my 
pants, my slave number, l-E-241, was sewn on in black 
cloth. There was little chance to forget who or where I 

84 



was. From the coded numbers the MVD officials could 
tell at a glance that I was a political prisoner. 

Two weeks later I was put on a train headed still far- 
ther north, along with a group that was mainly com- 
posed of Russians and Ukrainians. The Russians had been 
arrested for "treason" or "agitation" or were former Red 
army men who had been captured by the Germans in 
World War II, a twenty-year offense. Most Ukrainians 
were from the nationalist Bandera army that fought the 
Reds for independence. 

We made a short stop at the town of Vorkuta itself, 
comparatively "modern," with street lamps, cobblestoned 
roads, planked wooden sidewalks, and bronze statue of 
Josef Stalin extending greetings to the Komsomol mem- 
bership, the Young Communists who were supposed to 
have built the polar town. 

In the darkening streets we could see a few hundred 
slaves like ourselves, their numbers still visible on the 
cotton clothes in the evening light, with picks and axes 
repairing streets and breaking ground for a new apart- 
ment building for MVD officials. 

"Look at the Komsomol'tzy!" my Russian companions 
laughed. 

From the town we went north about twenty miles into 
the far northern region of the Vorkuta complex. Our des- 
tination was Camp 3, where 4500 men worked three of 
the forty coal pits of Vorkuta. With 120 other men I was 
assigned to a low, ugly barracks, No. 46, about a mile 
and a half from Mine 16, where I was to work as a slave 
for the next three years. 

Our barracks were low, rectangular affairs propped 
just above the tundra. Posts had been jammed into the 

85 



frozen ground, and boards nailed along them inside and 
out to create walls. The space between the walls was 
filled with ashes for insulation, then the walls were cov- 
ered with mud and straw to fill the holes. When completed, 
the whole thing was whitewashed. 

It was October and the six-week summer was over. 
There are only two seasons there, summer and winter. A 
sheet of snow already covered the ground. Prisoners were 
working outside the barracks, packing the snow into large 
blocks and propping them up against the side of the bar- 
racks, igloo fashion, as protection against the real cold 
ahead. Within a short time the temperature would drop 
to 45 to 65 below zero. 

I looked at the "bunk" I had been assigned to. It was 
a segment of a two-foot width of long, hard, wooden 
shelf, one of two shelves, upper and lower, that ran the 
full length of both sides of the barracks. I got an upper 
shelf and shimmied up a pole in front to get there. There 
was no sheet, mattress, pillow, or blanket — just a hard 
wooden slab. I untied my roll of extra clothes. Unfolding 
the trench coat I was wearing the day of my arrest in 
1945, I put it underneath me like a mattress. 

When the next prisoner lay down, a big Russian peas- 
ant who smelled of machorka, their crude tobacco made 
from the stem of the plant, our shoulders were touching. 
(Later, when new men came in, I had only enough room 
to sleep on my side flat against the next man.) But I was 
lucky. Some of the men were sleeping on the floor just 
as packed as I was. 

The only ones who seemed to enjoy the arrangement 
were the chorni djhopie, the dark-complexioned Geor- 
gians known as the "black asses," many of whom were 

86 



homosexuals. To them, our miserably close quarters were 
an Arctic heaven. 

The barracks was dark, with only a small window or 
two on either side and two naked electric bulbs hanging 
from the roof. Warmth was provided partly by a mud 
stove at either end, stoked by a slave whose health had 
been ruined by the work and the cold. Further heat was 
generated by the 100 to 125 prisoners who jammed the 
building. At the far end from me was the drying room, a 
stinking hole where prisoners back from the mine hung 
up their unwashed clothes to dry. 

It was a human jungle, smelly, overcrowded. Everyone, 
including the guards, spat large globs openly on the floor. 
The Russians cursed in one continuous flow. Slaves, 
guards, Red officials — especially the hard woman pris- 
oners — relied more on cursing than on a regular vocab- 
ulary. 

There was no toilet in the barracks. A crude outhouse 
with a hole in the snow was our bathroom. It was about 
150 yards from the barracks. The first days I ran like a 
deer through the deep snow in 20-below-zero weather, 
then raced back, holding my unbuttoned pants to make 
it without freezing. 

One day I noticed that not everyone went to the out- 
house as frequently as I did. I investigated a small crowd 
that had gathered near the door, which was open just a 
few inches. A wooden trough made of two planks was 
stuck through it to the ground below. One prisoner was 
urinating down the trough and the others were laughing. 
The smart ones, old hands at Soviet slavery, had devised 
impromptu plumbing to beat the cold at least part of the 
time. Some of the crowd were yelling "Da," others "Nyet." 

87 



They were betting crude cigarettes of machorka wrapped 
in old copies of Pravda whether the urine would freeze 
before it hit the ground. From November on, it almost 
always did. 

A few days after I arrived I became familiar with the 
security setup. From what I saw, we were precious cargo 
indeed. Inside the camp, the MVD guards were unarmed 
(for fear of being overpowered and having their guns 
stolen), but Camp 3 was surrounded by a twelve-foot-high 
barbed-wire fence punctuated with tall towers manned by 
guards and machine gunners. The towers were connected 
by telephone and an electric alarm system. A few yards 
inside the outer fence was a shorter one, three feet high. 
The snowy area between was designated a prohibited 
zone, zapretneye zona, and lit up all through the night 
and dark days with powerful arc lights. The guards had 
orders to shoot on sight anyone seen there. The police 
dogs, conscientious MVD allies, could scout the entire 
camp by means of a guide wire strung close to the outer 
fence. 

I was sure Vorkuta was escape proof. During my first 
week a Pole who had lived in Chicago for some years 
heard about the "Amerikanitz" and dropped in to say 
hello. He could handle a simple English conversation. I 
asked him about the chance for escape. 

"Where could you go even if you got out of here?" he 
said. "It might be possible to get past the fences under 
cover of a snowstorm, but the tundra, the snow, and the 
cold defeat everyone. Since I've been here, no one I know 
of has made it. Actually, you are worth more to the 
Communists than you imagine. The Komi nomads get 
10,000 rubles for every slave brought back. It's more 
money than they have ever seen. They do a good business. 

88 



The Red army also has outposts dug into the tundra, and 
their planes fly overhead looking for escapees. The only 
hope is to have the courage of the Colonel." 

The Colonel, a former Red army officer, is a Vorkuta 
legend. According to the story I heard, the Colonel was 
serving a twenty-five-year sentence for having surrendered 
his troops to the Nazis during World War II. In 1947, 
when conditions were said to have been so bad in Vor- 
kuta that survival was almost impossible, the Colonel or- 
ganized a secret army among the slaves. He succeeded in 
overpowering and disarming the MVD company guard- 
ing his camp. With his slave army now fully armed, he 
marched to the next camp and after a heavy pitched battle 
defeated the MVD, again commandeering their rifles and 
machine guns. The Colonel's army swelled with each 
camp he liberated, and he carefully made plans to 
march to the Finnish border, eighteen hundred miles 
away. It was still summer (revolt is possible only in July 
and August) and the rabble army made two hundred 
miles over the tundra before it was intercepted by a 
motorized MVD unit. Every rebel was either killed in 
battle or later executed in Vorkuta. 

Camp 3, with its 4500 men, was run by the MVD, 
under the command of Major Tchevchenko (a small, 
skeletonlike man who hated the cold climate) and his 
political officer, Captain Buikoff ("bull" in Russian), a 
tall, stolid, thick-necked officer who threw prisoners into 
the bor, the camp prison-within-a-prison, merely on the 
word of the stukachey, the MVD informers. (The word 
means "knocker" in Russia, the sign of a coward in a 
country where no one knocks before he enters a room.) 
Under Tchevchenko and Buikoff were the prisoner-officials, 
the nariaycheks, in charge of an entire work shift; the 

89 



desetnicks, in charge of one type of work (e.g., coal min- 
ing), and the brigadiers, overlords of anywhere from five 
to forty men. Ninety-five percent of the camp were violently 
anti-Communist, but some of the prisoner-officials were still 
loyal to the Kremlin despite their slavery — and a few served 
as stukachey. 

Unofficially, however, Vorkuta had a different master. 
Our camp was ruled with a steel fist by about 250 blatnois, 
the Russian criminals. They kept the political prisoners 
in abject fear. There were about eight of them in my bar- 
racks, living on a shelf at the far end that would nor- 
mally hold more than twenty prisoners. They spent their 
time sleeping, stealing whatever they admired, sharpen- 
ing the knives they made, playing homemade balalaikas, 
dancing the plashska, a fast dance something like the 
Spanish Flamenco. 

The bodies of many of the blatnois were covered with 
grotesque tattoos. I saw one that had the Pope and the 
Devil in an uncomplimentary pose. Another blatnoi had 
a giant foot-wide tattoo of human testicles etched in red 
across his chest. 

No brigadier, including my boss, Politayev, a former 
Red army commissar and politruk (political officer) serv- 
ing a twenty-year sentence because he was captured by 
the Nazis, would dare ask a blatnoi to work. If one of 
them should as much as lift a shovel, he would be mur- 
dered instantly by his comrades. 

The blatnois were unemotional professional criminals, 
mostly in their twenties, serving comparatively short sen- 
tences for theft and murder. They had begun life as 
besprisorni, the vagrant children that travel in small bands 
throughout the Soviet, robbing as they go. They had been 

90 



raised under communism, but they knew nothing about 
politics and cared less. Their starshi, or chief, a cold-eyed, 
burly twenty-three-year-old Moscovite, controlled his men 
with iron discipline. That discipline was the blatnois' 
strength over the bickering politicals. 
J The day I arrived, an Estonian slave had two teeth 
knocked out and his cheek cut open. He had refused to 
give his new bushlat to a blatnoi in exchange for an old 
one. One blatnoi did the actual fighting while two help- 
ers stood by. The Estonian made a move toward the blat- 
noi, but as he did, one of the thief s helpers tripped him. 
He fell on his face to a chorus of laughs. When he got 
up to fight again, a blatnoi standing behind him pushed 
him off balance. As he staggered, he was pummeled fero- 
ciously in the face until it was a pudgy mass of crimson. 
The Estonian's frightened slave friends drifted away from 
the brutal beating without lifting a finger. 

The beating was routine. A few days later, though, 
I saw that the blatnois stopped at nothing to enforce their 
will. I had dropped into a nearby barracks to visit my 
English-speaking Polish friend. While we were talking, a 
Ukrainian walked from man to man, fear etched in his 
eyes, whispering an announcement of some kind. 

"What did he say?" I asked. 

"He says the blatnois are playing cards," he answered 
with the same trepidation. 

"What's so important about their playing cards?" 

He looked at me patiently as if I were a child. "Come, 
you shall see." 

We walked toward the far end of the barracks. Five 
blatnois were seated on stools below the naked electric 
bulb. Between them was a table improvised from a large 

91 



board. I stood at a safe distance but close enough to see 
what was going on. They were playing cards intently, 
their eyes focused on the dealer's hand. 

"It looks like rummy," I said to my Polish friend. 'Is 
that the game?" 

"It's something like that, but they play with a forty- 
card deck, from ace to six. Look how they concentrate 
without a word or a smile." 

"What are the stakes?" I asked. "They must be high." 

"Very high," he answered solemnly. "Murder. The low 
scorer has to kill the man marked for death by the blat- 
nois. It happens every week." 

A cautious few like ourselves had gathered near the 
playing table, but when the blatnois kicked over the board 
in a sign that the game was over, the small crowd quickly 
dispersed. I went back to my friend's shelf and watched 
the drama from there. 

A young blond-haired blatnoi about eighteen, the loser, 
pulled a knife out of his belt and calmly approached 
the lower shelf of bunks about halfway between me and 
the place where they had been playing cards. He had a 
padded jacket in one hand and the knife in the other. 
Sleeping on the shelf was a well-fed prisoner, one of the 
cooks in the mess hall. 

The blatnoi walked silently, without causing a creak 
in the old flooring, then leaped at the cook. In one swift 
professional movement he threw the bushlat over the 
cook's head, held him down with a viselike grip around 
the neck, then jabbed the long blade to the hilt some 
twelve times into the victim's chest and stomach. 

The cook screeched through the bushlat. Dripping 
blood from his chest, he pushed the blatnoi off him. He 
got off the shelf and started to run down the barracks 

92 



aisle toward the door. He got about fifteen feet then col- 
lapsed and died in a pool of his own blood. 

I had never seen such a killing. Without a word, I 
walked back to my barracks. Later, I heard the aftermath 
of the murder. The victim had been decapitated with an 
ax by two of the blatnois after the killing. Then, follow- 
ing their tradition of "honor," the young killer had car- 
ried the cook's head in his hand — its bulging eyes still 
frozen in an expression of horror — right up to the main 
gate. He proudly confessed the killing and presented the 
head to the guard as proof. 

The cook had paid the penalty for defying the blat- 
nois. As a cook he was an important part of one blatnoi 
scheme. When a new prisoner arrived, the blatnois often 
made a deal — they would "buy" the woolen suit he was 
arrested in and pay for it with a month's extra ration, a 
second plate of soup at both meals. The blatnoi chief 
would take the prisoner down to the cook, introduce him 
and explain. "This man is to get extra soup every day 
for thirty days." The now-headless cook had refused to 
go along with the proposition. 

The blatnoi killer was given the usual two-month sen- 
tence in the camp prison, not a day of it in the cold cell, 
a special MVD torture reserved for political prisoners. In 
return for keeping the politicals cowed, the tattooed crim- 
inals had the run of Vorkuta. One of their murder victims 
was found at least once a week, killed in his sleep in the 
barracks or face down in the snow, his head opened with 
a food chopper stolen from the kitchen. Only those blat- 
nois who proved too much for even the MVD were 
shipped farther north to the Arctic Ocean island of No- 
vaya Zemlya (New Land), from which there is no return. 

In 1953, the Soviet government changed the penalty 

93 



for murder to death, but still the blatnois never got more 
than two months in the bor. 

Fortunately, I had one advantage on my side. As the 
only American in camp, I soon became a museum piece — 
treated by my fellow prisoners with special respect and 
awe. Despite all the anti-American propaganda, the 
U.S.A. is still the land of magic wonders, at least to the 
Russians in Vorkuta. One day, an old slave came into my 
barracks while I was lying down. "Look, look, the Ameri- 
kanitz," he said. He was pointing me out to friends who 
had never seen one. 

I decided to take whatever advantage there was in being 
an American. I would play the lone wolf and keep to 
myself. 



13 



MY LIFE IN VOR- 
kuta was the closest thing possible to a living death. It was 
a grueling combination of slow but continuous starvation, 
exhausting work, killing cold, and abject monotony that 
destroyed many a healthier man than I. 

There was no wasted time in Vorkuta. I went to work 
producing coal for the Reds the day I got there. The brig- 
adier in charge of surface transportation (hauling coal 
and slate) at Mine 16 was Politayev, the former Red army 
political officer who looked me over and picked me for 
his work brigade. My job was to push a two-ton car full 
of slate by hand. Some of the others chosen complained 
that they couldn't handle such heavy work. 

94 



CAMP VORKUTA 



Mines 12, 14, 16 







DDDD 
DDDD 
DDDD 

DDDD 
DDDD 
DDDD 




-Q- 




DDDD DD 
DDDD DD#"„ i 
DDDD DD 



Note: The "prison" had 8 cells and was used for severe short 
terms, in chains, of 5 to 10 days for camp violations. The bor 
was used for confining prisoners serving 10 to 60 days at hard 
labor for camp violations. 



"Sukinsin!" ("Son of a bitch!") one disgruntled pris- 
oner yelled at Politayev. Politayev turned and looked dis- 
dainfully at the complaining prisoner. Then he pointed 
out a slave half-propped up on his bunk. I caught some 
of the conversation and learned later that he was pointing 
out a mine slave, one of the unfortunates who worked all 
day in the 2 Vi -foot-high coal tunnels, crawling on their 
stomachs and knees like rodents, chipping out the coal. 
He had a blank, animal-like expression on his face, his 
hair had turned mostly white, and his eyes were sunk 
deep in his cadaverous face. All his bones showed under 
a thin skin covering. 

I turned away, sick. 

For the next fourteen months, though, my lot wasn't 
much better than his. In fact, I never expected to live 
through the winter of 1950-1951. 

My day began about 4:45 a.m. when a guard came 
through yelling "Vstan!" ("Get up!"). The first few 
weeks I washed with the half of a sheet I had taken 
from Buchenwald. But one morning when the water 
buckets froze (a common failure) I noticed that some of 
the prisoners were washing in the snow stripped to the 
waist. I decided to give it a try. The entire operation had 
to be done quickly, I learned by experimenting. One min- 
ute was fine, but five minutes could produce a bad frost- 
bite. It stung and my face and body turned a beet red, 
but I was clean. 

"Breakfast" was at 5:30. (The first step out of the 
barracks each morning suffocated me for a moment, the 
air was so cold and thin.) There were two meals a day, in 
the morning and evening. Each morning, I received a 
pound and three quarters of sticky black bread, which 
was our basic ration for the day. It was baked less than 

96 



an hour and soaked with sixty percent of water. It was 
about one-third the size of an American one-pound rye- 
bread loaf. It was too wet to eat as it was, so I toasted it 
over the barracks stove, as the others did. 

Breakfast consisted of a scoop of kasha (grayish grits) 
and a small bowl of watery soup with a few cabbage 
leaves at the bottom. There was nothing to drink except 
water. Supper, about twelve hours later, was the same 
kasha and thin soup, plus a thimbleful of sunflower oil 
to pour over the kasha, a lV4-inch square of fish, and a 
roll the size of a small egg. Every ten days, instead of the 
fish, I got two ounces of tough reindeer meat. Once, on 
May Day, we had pork. 

My whole day's food totaled about 1400 calories (so 
a Russian doctor told me), about half what an office 
worker usually requires to live. I was continually starved, 
my stomach in a knot crying for more. It's a feeling you 
never get used to. 

The evening meal was just enough to engender a real 
appetite. All I could do to relieve the hunger pains back 
in the barracks was to brew some homemade "coffee," 
an art I learned by watching the others. You take an 
inch-square piece of black Russian bread, stick it on a 
wire, and toast it over a flame until it is pitch black — 
but you don't allow it to become white-hot ashes. When 
it's the right color, you quickly dunk the burnt bread into 
a cup of hot water until it too turns black. This dirty 
water is Vorkuta coffee. Strangely enough, on cold nights 
later on, when I had forgotten the aroma of real coffee, it 
tasted good. 

I had heard about the Vorkuta winter, but I never 
quite believed it until I saw and felt it. 

"It gets bad here in winter," my Polish friend had told 

97 



me. "The cold gets in your bones so bad you don't want 
to live any more. It gets thirty, fifty, even seventy below 
zero." 

I worked on the surface that first year in the worst 
Vorkuta winter in a decade. After morning mess, I lined 
up in excruciating thirty-five-below-zero cold, hopping 
around from one foot to the other while the plodding 
MVD guards called the roll. My job was a mile and a 
half away from the camp. Fifty of us, covered by ten 
guards and two police dogs, made the trip every morning 
through a forty-foot-wide corridor connecting Mines 12, 
14, and 16 with Camp 3. The corridor had the same 
double set of barbed wire on either side, and the same 
brilliantly lit prohibited zone. About twenty guard towers 
were alternately spaced on either side of the corridor. Each 
tower was manned by one guard, with a submachine gun, 
who was relieved every three hours. 

Winter came quickly. By November and December, the 
mile-and-a-half trip to and from work took us over an 
hour each way, as we trudged through snow up to my hips. 
(The corridor had a wooden walk, visible only in July 
and August.) Every week the thermometer dipped an- 
other five degrees. Within a short time, traveling to work 
under armed guard became a polar expedition — little Arc- 
tic safaris of guards, dogs, and slaves braving below-zero 
temperatures and blinding snowstorms that blew up out 
of nowhere. Only the MVD police dogs could forecast 
them. At the approach of a storm they whined pitifully. 

I hit an ugly storm not long after I arrived. It snowed 
all night, and by morning, the twelve-foot barbed-wire 
fence on the corridor was only a foot above the snow in 
some spots. I had never seen anything like it in my life. 
We ran to the mine through the snow (the pace was kill- 

98 



ing but it was the only way to create warmth). The snow 
blew up in front of my face in great swirls. At times the 
visibility was as low as six inches. The wind howled mer- 
cilessly. I was one of the few men wearing the face mask 
issued by the camp; gradually my breath, captured in- 
side it, began to freeze painfully against my face. I ripped 
it off and threw it into the snow. I pulled my bushlat over 
my head, and staggered with my arm covering my face. 

"Don't break out of line or you will be shot,'' one of the 
MVD guards yelled. 

I could have stepped right over the buried barbed-wire 
fence at a dozen spots along the corridor, but there was 
nowhere to escape to except deeper into the snowstorm. 

Suddenly the slave next to me tapped me on the shoul- 
der and pointed to my chin. It was a warning that my chin 
had turned white, the first frightening sign of frostbite. I 
pulled my hand out from under my jacket and started to 
rub the circulation back, the only hope of stopping frost- 
bite. It took ten minutes to get my chin red again. I 
stopped just in time, for the back of my exposed hand 
had just begun to show small white spots. 

Others weren't as lucky. Hundreds of Vorkuta slaves 
walked around with toes and fingers missing, amputated 
after a case of frostbite to stop the gangrene from spread- 
ing. One coal miner who had been brought up to the sur- 
face on a stretcher after a cave-in had crushed his chest, 
lay on the ground for fifteen minutes before he was taken 
to the hospital. His chest finally healed but the short ex- 
posure to the cold and snow made it necessary to ampu- 
tate all his toes and nine fingers. 

I never noticed the poor condition of the prisoners until 
later, when I injured myself and had to go to a dispen- 
sary. There I saw how skinny they were. Their pelvic 

99 



bones were actually protruding through the skin, and 
from this they were seeking relief; all they got was a new 
bandage; no extra food, no time off from work. 

My own injury consisted of a broken rib and two 
cracked ribs, suffered during work after I had been at 
Vorkuta for three weeks. The coal car I had been han- 
dling hooked into my jacket and pinned me between the 
car's sharp corner and a pillar in the corridor where the 
tracks ran. 

Luckily, this occurred at the end of a shift, and I was 
able soon to leave for the camp. I explained to the doctor 
what had happened. Because it happened at work, he 
told me, I must have the mine doctor make a report of 
the accident. So he gave me a day off to get things settled 
with the mine. 

The next day began one of my monthly three-day rests, 
and I did not go to the mine until the second day after 
the accident. The report was made out by the mine doc- 
tor, without any trouble, and I went to my department 
boss to have it countersigned. He said to me: "You had 
an accident and broke a rib, so you cannot work. How 
long will it take to get better?" 

"Maybe three or four weeks," I replied. 

He came close to me and said: "I like you, Ameri- 
kanitz, and I want you to work for me, but if I sign this 
for you, then the next thing I do will be to kick you out. 
Slave l-E-241 will work and die in the darkest corner of 
the mine." 

"But why?" I asked. "I didn't break my rib intention- 
ally." 

"I know," he replied, "but look: if I sign this, the camp 
will send you to a place to rest, all right, but I am the 
department boss and I will have to pay for the time you 

100 



don't work, and the chief engineer won't get his bonus. 
You have to confess that you injured yourself intention- 
ally and then take an additional sentence. If you don't do 
this, you will have to find some way out, but not at my 
expense. I'll help you along and give you a few days' 
rest at the mine, and some light work to cover a few 
weeks, but that's all I can do." 

I went off to seek advice on how to close the door that 
I had opened at the dispensary. My brigadier suggested 
a second accident, not at the mine but in the camp; I then 
could say that the first injury was only a sprain but that 
the camp injury did the real damage. In this way, because 
the time I lost was not the result of an injury during work- 
ing hours, the department boss would not be personally 
responsible for the time I lost from work. 

I carried out this suggestion, and so had a day's further 
rest in the camp and a few at the mine. The chief benefit 
was that I could stay on the surface and have a boss I 
could get on with. 

When we arrived at Mine 16 on the bitter day that I 
narrowly escaped frostbite on my chin, there was another 
roll call. Mishka, a student from Stalingrad, was missing, 
lost somewhere in the snow corridor. None of the guards 
volunteered to search for him. The next day, when the 
storm subsided, his frozen body was found buried face 
down in the snow. The cold had frozen a pained, lifelike 
expression in place. 

My job at Mine 16 was pushing a two-ton car full of 
slate. My partner, a Latvian who had done it before, 
briefed me in sign language on what I was supposed to 
do. The waste slate dug up with the coal came up the 
nrne elevator and was dumped into metal cars on tracks. 

101 



The two of us were supposed to push the car 160 yards 
by hand, then tilt and unload the slate into another car 
below our platform. I had to do this seventy times a day, 
back and forth. 

I looked at the tracks covered with snow and the loaded 
two-ton car. It's impossible, I thought. 

Unfortunately, it was only nearly impossible, and I be- 
came a human locomotive for the next fourteen months. 
I pushed with my shoulder, jabbing it against the car until 
my shoulder turned almost permanently blue. Tilting 
the car was a superhuman strain. The first time I did it, 
I felt as if my backbone was bending and ready to snap. 
I never got used to it. 

After I dumped the slate, an American-made electric 
pulley brought it to the top of a sixty-foot-high heap, 
where it was dumped again. 

Every few days I was assigned to work at the top of the 
heap. The climate sixty feet up was not unlike that on a 
15,000-foot Alpine peak. It was horrible. The icy, pricking 
wind almost hurled me off the slate mountain with every 
step. It took hours to do the work of minutes. 

I worked without protection against the weather. Our 
tracks were covered overhead with a thin porchlike roof, 
but we were usually exposed on both sides to the cold, 
the snow, and the wind. According to GULAG regula- 
tions, we weren't supposed to work on the surface in tem- 
peratures lower than forty below zero (work went on at 
all times in the mine), but that was a joke. Major Tchev- 
chenko was responsible to MGB General Derevyenko, 
boss of all Vorkuta, who was in turn responsible to the 
Kremlin for Vorkuta's coal output. They wouldn't coun- 
tenance a day's stoppage — even, it was said, if the mus- 
tache froze on Stalin's statue in Vorkuta. I worked in 

102 



lifty and sixty below, my head buried against my shoul- 
der in a pitiful attempt to ward off the cold. One day the 
thermometer dropped quickly to 72 below Centigrade 
(—90 Fahrenheit), where it stayed for three hours, freez- 
ing the axle grease on my car. But there was still no letup 
in the work. 

More than half the time, we worked in almost inky 
blackness. During January and February, I worked by 
starlight at noontime — an eerie experience for one still 
not used to the Arctic. 

I had no gloves, but I managed to steal some oil rags 
out of the mechanic's shop and wrapped them around 
my hands. I wrapped my feet in large rags, which were 
actually warmer than socks. (The Red army uses rags 
too.) But nothing could keep the cold out. After an houfs 
work, I was so chilled and exhausted, my face, hands, and 
feet so numb that I cried like a child. 

Officially there was no break in our work, not a min- 
ute out for rest or lunch (there was no lunch), but the 
great institutional Russian inefficiency saved my life. One 
day, the mine elevator stopped working. There was no 
slate coming up to us to be pushed in my "baby carriage;" 
A Latvian prisoner pointed across a field to a small build- 
ing, the mine powerhouse. In a combination of sign lan- 
guage, Russian, German, and English, he explained that it 
would be about ten minutes before the elevator would be 
fixed. I raced to the powerhouse, where I was greeted by 
smiling Russian prisoners warming themselves over a 
stove. I felt great, except that my boots got wet from the 
melting snow and they froze when I went out again. From 
the powerhouse I could hear the signals — two bells for 
coal, five for slate. 

Mechanically, the Soviet mines are very poorly 

103 



equipped. This is because of Russia's backwardness, in 
part, but also because of another factor which the execu- 
tive engineer explained to me. While Russia has — both 
on paper and in "show" mines — the most modern ma- 
chinery, it would not be possible to put this to use gen- 
erally. Because a modern machine can be operated by 
one person, replacing from one hundred to two hundred 
men, this one person is able, if he is "evil-minded" (anti- 
Communist), to slow down or stop the work of up to two 
hundred men as represented in the output of the machine. 
If you have the people themselves to do the work, little 
harm results if one or two out of a hundred are evil- 
minded. Why take the risk of using machines? 

The mine elevator was a machine they could not re- 
place by man power. Therefore they used the best one 
available, an American lock hoister built in Iowa in 1913. 
Almost all electrical machinery was made in America or 
Germany. 

I felt more and more like a primitive slave, my starv- 
ing body pushing a two-ton car in an age of mechani- 
zation. I did not know the language, and I worked all day 
without a real friend at my side, for they changed part- 
ners regularly. I was sure that slaves in other times and 
places had a better deal than this. 

The first seven months of the winter 1950-1951, I had 
just enough stamina to make it back to the camp every 
night. After "supper" in the stolovaya, our mess hall, I 
collapsed on my hard shelf in my filthy, snow-soaked 
work clothes. My face was a deep red from the cold, and 
for two hours after coming indoors I felt as if a log fire 
were six inches from my nose. I could hardly lift my stiff 
legs. My shoulder was blue from the slate car, and the 

104 



palms of my hands had turned to elephant skin, each 
palm a large callous insensitive to cold, heat, or pain. 

The starvation, climate and work had eaten away my 
body fat and left me a skin covering that hung over my 
bones. My weight had dropped to 95 pounds. Where my 
bones pushed against the skin, the skin turned a deeper 
brown than the rest of my yellowing but still not bleeding 
body. My rear end just disappeared. With the fat eaten 
away, the skin hung in big folds like a toy accordion. 

The lack of oxygen in the Vorkuta air complicated my 
problems. I longed for sleep, but even sleeping all through 
my day off (three days a month) couldn't shake that all- 
pervading tiredness. 

God, I'm near the end of my rope, I thought to myself 
desperately one night. If the Reds push me just a little 
further, I'll break. 

The other prisoners were even more wretched looking 
than I was (although the Russians among us took Vor- 
kuta fatalistically: "What can we do? The regime and I 
were never friends. The MVD won, so we are here."). 
They were ill and decrepit far beyond their age. Ninety 
percent of them suffered from abnormally high blood pres- 
sure or heart disease, the blights of the polar region. I 
had only a slight case of high blood pressure, but my 
wrists and ankles swelled regularly into puffy masses of 
skin. Everyone had a cadaverous appearance (average 
weight was 75-115 pounds), a fact that hit me hard every 
ten days when we were taken to the camp banya, or bath, 
to get a hot bath and shave and to have our slave's mark 
of distinction restored — the head shaved down to shiny, 
hairless scalp. With our clothes off and the filth washed 
away, the pelvic bones stood out clearly. Only the Baltic 

105 



prisoners, who received excellent food packages from home 
when Tchevchenko allowed it, looked any better. 

Our teeth rotted from lack of vitamins. There was no 
dental care — only extractions. Most men had half their 
teeth missing, especially the lowers. I lost a few, and those 
I have left are discolored, eaten away, and shaky. Dental 
problems followed a pattern. The gums around a tooth 
would start to swell. The expanding fluid inside the flesh 
gradually pressed against the tooth until it loosened and 
fell out helplessly — generally while one was eating, espe- 
cially the leathery reindeer meat served Vorkuta style. 
Some prisoners frantically tried to stop the inevitable proc- 
ess by puncturing the swelling gums with a needle and 
draining the fluid. 

There was one boon to health. The cold that chilled 
the life out of us was itself a lifesaver. It was just too cold 
for most bacteria to live in Vorkuta. Otherwise, epidem- 
ics would have destroyed us in a year. Only tuberculosis, 
probably aggravated by the coal dust, was common. 

The heavy labor was almost impossible to avoid. Re- 
fusing to work meant time in the cold cell. Prisoners were 
stripped down to light clothing and put into an unheated 
stone room, hands chained to the wall, thighs straddled 
over a concrete block that rubbed the fierce 40- or 50- 
below cold into the sensitive skin on the inside of the 
thigh. (Later, a friend, Ivan Simkovich, who had been 
accused of purposely slowing down his work, was sen- 
tenced to five days in the cold cell. "After one night in 
the cold cell you'll do anything they want," he told me. 
"It kept preying on my mind. All I wanted to do was get 
into a warm room.") 

No one stood directly over us while we worked, but we 
had our Communist "norm," more diabolical than any 

106 



ancient slavemaster. My "norm" was to transport all the 
slate that came up the mine elevator. Others had more 
specific tasks — so many feet of shoring in the main 
shafts, so many tons of coal to be dug, so many feet of 
coal-car tracks to be laid. Those of us who didn't fulfill 
their norms were put on punishment rations of less than 
half the normal diet. It was a vicious cycle. Those too 
weak to do their work were put on punishment rations. 
They became weaker and less able to fulfill their norms. 
The brigadiers, who are always anxious to get the best 
workers, shunted these poor starving souls from job to 
job until their emaciated bodies just expired. Those who 
were fortunate enough might have a sympathetic jeldshar 
(one of the half -trained doctors of Vorkuta) declare him 
fit for only lighter work. 

Conditions in the camp hospital were primitive. Ac- 
cording to the theory that sick men weren't working and 
therefore needed less to eat, patients were given only half 
the normal ration. Only those who had undergone sur- 
gery had real beds — the others slept on shelves as we did. 
But it was still a sought-after haven, a rest from the gruel- 
ing work and cold. 

The hospital was run by a good-looking twenty-year- 
old girl, called "Doctor." She was actually a jeldshar with a 
year of medical-school training. She cursed like a ten- 
year veteran of Vorkuta, but basically she was pretty nice. 
Still she had to turn dying men away from the hospital. 
According to GULAG regulations, only a very small per- 
centage of the work force could be sick on any given day. 

A high fever was the only excuse to get in. In the win- 
ter of 1950 a group of prisoners transferred to Vorkuta 
from southern Russia brought in a virus that infected the 
entire camp within a few days. Only those with 101 Fahr- 

107 



enheit or higher could be excused from work. My fever 
got quite high, and I spent a welcome week in the hos- 
pital. I was given little medication or care, but it was a 
chance to sleep. 

Some slaves who couldn't take the grind dreamed up 
elaborate escape plans, but these always failed. Three 
prisoners in a barracks near the fence dug a tunnel from 
the drying room under the fence to the outside. They 
made white capes from stolen sheets and skis from old 
whittled-down boards. They broke out during a snow- 
storm, but soon lost track of one another. One fell into 
the hands of a guard at a neighboring camp. Another 
wandered in a circle for a day and ended up back at 
Camp 3. The third was found dead in the snow three days 
later. 

Until 1948, escapees were shot immediately. After that, 
however, they would be thrown into the cold cell — but 
not before the MVD guards gave them a going over. Since 
a successful escape would probably mean death for the 
guards responsible, they beat up everyone who tried, as a 
warning to the other slaves. I saw one of the three men 
who broke out on skis. He was lying limp on the floor of 
the guards' hut at the main gate, his face bloated from 
constant bashing. 

There was really only one way to beat the Communists, 
and many prisoners used it. That was to disable yourself 
so badly that you could only be a floor sweeper or the 
sushilchik, the stoker of the barracks stove. 

One evening in the middle of the first winter, I was sleep- 
ing on my shelf when a loud yell from the end of the bar- 
racks startled me. Quickly jerking myself up off the shelf, 
I saw an Asiatic Russian prisoner, a fierce-looking Kal- 
muk, one of the remnants of what was once the Kalmuk 

108 



Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. He had been ar- 
rested during World War II resisting the Russian genocide 
of his entire nation. The Russians killed and imprisoned 
almost all the 225,000 Kalmuks, including babies and 
women, and discontinued the "republic" in 1943 when the 
Kalmuks refused to fight for their Soviet oppressors. 

He stood in the center of the aisle. In his left hand was 
a hatchet he had stolen from the mine. All eyes were on 
him. He placed his right hand palm down on a stool di- 
rectly under the naked electric bulb. 

"Russki Cherti! [Russian Devils!] No more work from 
me!" he shrieked at the top of his lungs. 

As the words came out, his left hand swung the hatchet 
down in a resounding blow that struck the hand just above 
the knuckles, severing his four fingers cleanly from his 
hand. As he lifted the stump, the blood fountained out and 
covered his face and clothes. The force of the blow had 
thrown what once were four fingers onto the floor. His eyes 
were shining with fierce pride. He wrapped two filthy rags 
around the remains of his hand to absorb the blood, 
crawled back onto his shelf, and chanted himself to sleep, 
cursing the Russians. The Kalmuk spent two months in 
the camp jail, but he never again did a day's heavy work 
for the MVD. 

Others rubbed dirt into self-inflicted foot or leg wounds 
and massaged the wounds until they couldn't walk. Some 
had their friends crush their wrists with six-inch poles. The 
shrewd ones threw apoplectic fits and tried to simulate 
high blood pressure by drinking vast amounts of fluids be- 
fore an examination. Some succeeded, others got time in 
the cold cell and heavy jail sentences for "sabotage." 
Tchevchenko blanched and raged with fury at the news of 
any new self-made cripple. He was deathly afraid the trend 

109 



would spread and that his wards, Mines 12, 14, and 16, 
would no longer send enough coal to warm Leningrad. 



14 



I LIVED IN TfflS 
mad world for more than half a year almost entirely 
alone, and with little to occupy my mind. Playing cards 
and singing were strictly forbidden. No more than five 
men were allowed to congregate at one time. Radio 
Moscow blared out of the barracks loudspeaker in a for- 
eign language I couldn't speak or write, and which I could 
hardly understand. As I later found out, there were some 
women, but I was a Vorkuta greenhorn. Each of the na- 
tionalities was organized into something resembling com- 
munity life, but, besides an odd Canadian, I was the only 
American in my camp. (I had heard rumors about Private 
William Marchuk, Private William Verdine, and two other 
Americans, Homer Cox and Towers, as well as many 
others, but I had no chance to meet them.) 

Days passed into weeks, weeks into months. I wondered 
whether the U.S. government knew where I was. Were 
they doing anything? I received no mail or packages 
(Tchevchenko wouldn't let them through even if they ar- 
rived), and I wasn't allowed to write my mother and 
brother George in Detroit, or my father, who I thought 
was still in a Russian prison in East Germany (actually he 
was released in 1952 and was back in Detroit), or the U.S. 
Embassy in Moscow. They even refused me a Red Cross 
postcard, a basic international right. 

HO 



But mostly I thought about food — strangely enough, 
not about exotic dishes or steaks or ice cream, but plain 
milk and fruit. I saw shining white glasses of milk and 
clean pears and apples in my dreams. But I never saw 
them in reality for nine years. 

Sitting on my bunk, I watched some of the other lucky 
ones get packages from home, for them the difference 
between life and death. The Russian packages from the 
rural areas were good evidence of the widespread pov- 
erty, generally just a bag of onions, some tea leaves, and 
dried vegetables. Only rarely they included a small piece 
of bacon. The Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians, whose 
countries' former prosperity hasn't yet been completely 
destroyed by Red rule, got full, wholesome packages of 
candies, sugar, bacon, lard, and sausages. Each package 
was quickly divided among the prisoner's hungry friends, 
who tried to make the wonderful gifts last a day or two. 
Unless it was cleverly hidden, though, food or dried bread 
might not be husbanded. Molkov, a short, hated MVD 
guard (unlike most others, easy-going slobs who closed 
their eyes to most things unless another guard was along), 
regarded food saved for a hungry day as "evidence" that a 
slave was making "escape preparations." It was worth six 
weeks in the bor for one of our Lithuanians, Scichkauskas. 

My stomach envied those who got packages or who had 
friends who got packages. I had neither. Then I heard 
there was a chance to pick up bits of leftover food down at 
the kitchen after the evening meal. One night, before the 
evening roll call, when we were locked in for the night, I 
went to the stolovaya and approached one of the well-fed 
cooks. 

"Yeda, yeda" ("Food, food"), I begged in rehearsed 
Russian. I pointed longingly at the discarded fish heads 

111 



and a small pile of kasha, scrapings off the prisoner-offi- 
cials' plates. The cook looked me over to see if I was a 
friend, a friend of a friend, or a quick man with substan- 
tial Mat (bribe money). When he decided he didn't know 
me from Adam, he kicked me out of the kitchen with a 
menacing wave of his food chopper. I went back to the 
barracks a little hungrier, lonely, and more disgruntled 
than usual. 



15 



"JOHNNY, EVERY- 

thing in Vorkuta depends on who you know," Vaska, a 
Ukrainian in my barracks, told me. "With enough blat 
the guards and brigadiers will give you the right job. There 
are few Russians that can't be bribed. You need friends in 
the kitchen for a little extra food, and a contact in the hos- 
pital will also never hurt you. If you are part of a tight-knit 
group, not even the blatnois will bother you." He was right. 

Learning Russian was my first survival project. My 
teacher was a barracks mate, Ivan, a former student at 
Moscow University, one of the many disgruntled Soviet in- 
tellectuals. Without realizing it, I had already picked up a 
few words on the slate job — "pull," "stop," and others 
from the guards' commands. In no time I was making ex- 
cellent progress. "Soon you will speak better than many of 
the Ukrainians," Ivan said. I worked at it every spare min- 
ute, and in a short time could speak halting, grammatically 
poor Russian. 

Now that I was out of my cocoon, my circle of friends 

112 



grew rapidly. Three prisoners, Vaska, Ivan, and Alexia, 
became my closest friends. Vaska, a twenty-five-year-old, 
short, dark-haired Ukrainian peasant, worked the electro- 
pulley that hauled my slate to the top of the heap. A fer- 
vent Ukrainian nationalist, Vaska fought with the Ukrai- 
nian Banders army during World War II against both the 
Nazis and Communists. Ivan, a thirty-year-old Ukrainian, 
had some secondary education — somewhat of a rarity in 
the rural areas. He hated the Communists with a passion 
reserved for Ukrainians. Three million of his people died 
of famine in 1932 during the severe drought. Red troops 
closed the Russian-Ukrainian border to keep the starving 
people from leaving, and stole whatever grain existed. 
Both Ivan's parents had been deported to Siberia. 

"Millions were sent to Siberia or killed in the 'thirties 
when the Communists forced us to collectivize our farms," 
another Ukrainian told me. "When Hitler invaded Russia 
it was a chance to fight back against the Kremlin. We had 
millions of soldiers ready to destroy Stalin. But when we 
saw that Hitler was no better — he kidnaped thousands of 
our people to work in his factories and had no intention of 
giving us independence — we had to fight on both fronts. 
We died on the west against the Nazis and on the east 
against the Communists. It was hopeless." 

Alexia was a Russian from Smolensk. He had been ar- 
rested in 1946 while a senior high school student, charged 
with the ubiquitous Paragraph 58-10, Agitation, the 
standard charge for anything from telling jokes about 
Stalin to intellectual deviationism. 

My new friends made life a little more bearable. I shared 
in their meager food packages sent from home. Sometimes 
a friend in the kitchen could find a little extra cabbage soup 
or fat to help protect my 95 pounds against the cold. When 

113 



I went to the camp hospital later, my friends brought me 
bread saved from their own rations, and other favors for 
which I'll always be grateful. 

Learning Russian dispelled another fear. The language 
is so harsh I always thought everyone was screaming at 
me. Later I realized it was just a way of speaking. Actually 
the Russians are far from firm. They are masters of bluff — 
but when you stand up to them aggressively, they invari- 
ably back down. 

Through my triumvirate and my new command of the 
language, I came to know the more than one hundred 
other slaves in my barracks, and others throughout Vor- 
kuta. Vorkuta was a veritable League of Nations, and it 
contained many notables of the Communist world. The 
former First Secretary of the Communist Party of Estonia, 
who had labored to turn his country over to the Soviet, was 
handing out food in the stolovaya of Mine 29. 

There were slaves who had been deputy ministers of 
East Germany and satellite countries, and regional leaders, 
of the Communist Party itself. Gureyvich, a Russian Jew 
and former Soviet diplomat, was in Camp 3 just a few 
barracks from me. He had been recalled from France by 
the Kremlin shortly after World War II (when the "cold, 
war" policy developed) and arrested by MVD agents as 
he stepped off the plane in Moscow. We had a colleague of 
Trotsky, who had been in dozens of slave camps for the 
last nineteen years; a former Professor of History at the: 
University of Leningrad, and many former university stu- 
dents. A barracks mate, Dmitri Bespalo, an active mem- 
ber of the Young Communist League (Komsomol) at the 
University of Kiev, was serving fifteen years for "agita- 
tion." 

We had many former CP members from East Germany,. 

114 



who were arrested in periodic purges from 1946 to 1950. 
There were even two Spanish Communists who had been 
in Odessa in the thirties expediting war materials to the 
Spanish Loyalists during the Civil War. They stayed on in 
Russia after Franco won, and a year later were arrested for 
"espionage." Most of the ex-Communists were disillu- 
sioned with what they consider the Kremlin's perversion of 
Marxism. 

Not everyone in Vorkuta was an ex-Red. We were a 
polyglot army of slaves from every walk of life and almost 
every nation in the world. In Camp 3 we had Poles who 
had served with the Allies in General Anders's army dur- 
ing World War II and were arrested back in Poland when 
the Communists took full control in 1947. There were hun- 
dreds of Baltic people — Lithuanians, Latvians and Esto- 
nians, whose nations had been gobbled up in 1940 and 
made into Soviet republics. 

"When the Russians realized they couldn't really com- 
munize us," a Latvian, a former resident of Riga, told me, 
"they started to bring hundreds of thousands of Russians 
in to live in our country. They sent our people in exile to 
Siberia. Those of us who fought the deportation are here 
in Vorkuta, or in Karaganda or Irkutsk, or other slave 
camps instead of living in collectives in Siberia. Well, may- 
be there isn't much difference anyway." 

Another Latvian had been a student at the University 
of Riga before his arrest. A prominent athlete, he had 
often visited Moscow with various sports groups. He con- 
fided to me that a good part of the Russian Olympic teams 
are actually made up of closely guarded, blond-haired 
anti-Communist athletes from the Baltic nations. 

There were slaves from Iraq, Iran, Italy, Mongolia, 
China, and Czechoslovakia and later two North Koreans 

115 



^ 



accused of disloyalty to their regime. There were a num- 
ber of Russian and Ukrainian Jews, victims of Stalin's anti- 
Semitic pogroms of 1949-1953. In Camp 3 alone there 
were ten Greeks who had been taken prisoner by the Com- 
munists during their civil war. One of my barracks mates 
was a young Hungarian, James, a former university stu- 
dent in Budapest. He had been arrested as a "Western 
agent," allegedly for spreading Colorado potato bugs, thus 
causing the bad potato crop in Hungary. There were hun- 
dreds of Germans, both Communists and Nazis, and some 
former SS troopers. We had representation from France in 
one prisoner, Rene (his wife was in the women's com- 
pound), who had been attached to the French government 
unit in West Berlin; an Englishman named Chapman 
(in Camp 10), a British army man who had been cap- 
tured by the Germans in Holland. He was liberated in 
1945 by the Russians from a Nazi PW camp, then 
promptly rearrested by the Reds and sent to Vorkuta. 
When I met him in mid- 1954, his mind had been almost 
completely destroyed. Eve Robinson, a good-looking 
blonde Englishwoman, about thirty, was in the women's 
camp. 

A number of my fellow prisoners were clergymen, Cath- 
olic priests from Lithuania, Protestant ministers from Lat- 
via and Germany, and Russian Orthodox priests who were 
the only ones allowed to keep their long beards. Religion 
was one of the most serious crimes in Vorkuta. Possession 
of a Bible meant at least a month in jail. 

But, despite all controls, religion flourished. Some 
groups held services at an altar in an unused hallway of 
the mine. A group of Baptists sat together at the evening 
meal in the stolovaya and prayed. When an MVD guard 
came over, they said: "There is nothing wrong, Chort 

116 



fdevil]. We are just praying." (The guards in Vorkuta 
took the slaves' imprecations philosophically.) 

On free days I sometimes attended Protestant services 
given by a Latvian minister. It was in a different barracks 
each time. It was dangerous, but only if two or more 
guards came along. Individual guards made believe they 
saw nothing and walked away. A Lithuanian priest in my 
barracks was arrested regularly. But after two months in 
the bor, he would return each time to minister to his flock. 

I was the only American in Camp 3, but I had contact 
with a few men who claimed to be Americans. In Camp 
10, where I lived in 1953 and 1954, there was a William 
Vlasilefsky, an English-speaking, Russian-born prisoner 
who claimed to be an American citizen. He said that he 
lived most of his early life in the Western states and that 
part of his family was still living in Seattle. According to 
Vlasilefsky, he was in the United States army in the early 
thirties, then migrated to China, where he started a suc- 
cessful business. In 1949, the Chinese Reds called him to 
Peiping, where he was arrested and sent to the Soviet as a 
slave laborer. 

Then there was Roy Linder, in Vorkuta called Adolf 
Eichenbaum, a prominent Vorkuta citizen. I met him in 
the hospital in 1950. Later he would come over to my bar- 
racks once in a while to talk. He spoke perfect English 
and, for that matter, equally good Russian, German, Swed- 
ish, and Chinese, We reminisced about Detroit (he had 
been a stunt flier at the Michigan State Fair) and about 
the States in general. Linder was very tall and balding and 
had a scarred chin that was twisted to one side, the result, 
he said, of a plane crash. According to his story, he was 
born in Vancouver, British Columbia, was an American 
citizen and a colonel in the United States Air Force, one 

U7 



of our commanding officers at Templehof Airport in 
West Berlin. During World War II he had been a U.S. 
army pilot in China, and prior to the war had flown as a 
"neutral" observer in the Spanish war. 

According to Linder's version of his arrest, he had been 
kidnaped by the Communists in West Berlin in 1949 and 
dragged over to the eastern sector. After a year in Lubi- 
anka prison in Moscow, he had been shipped to Vorkuta 
as a slave laborer. 

His story seemed convincing (except for occasional ref- 
erences to himself as major instead of colonel), but his 
short sentence of five years for Paragraph 58-6, "Espio- 
nage," made everyone suspicious. An American officer 
(unless he was trusted by the MVD) would undoubtedly 
have been tagged with a fifteen-to-twenty-five-year sen- 
tence. He had a local reputation as a person who might be 
pro-Communist. He seemed to have more freedom of ac- 
tion than the other slaves, more to eat, and more respect 
from the guards and MVD officers. My friends warned 
me not to trust him — that he was probably an MVD 
stuckachey — an informer. 

"Don't worry, Johnny. I won't make any trouble for 
you," Linder once told me in an unguarded moment. 

The last time I saw Linder was just before he was re- 
leased by pardon. He sent me a note a few weeks later, 
saying that he was in Vorkuta working in the village pow- 
erhouse as a free worker. He had a girl friend in Rostov in 
South Russia and hoped to go and meet her. I have no idea 
whether he was ever allowed to leave the Vorkuta area, or 
what has since become of him. 

Many other Americans are still in the Soviet, working 
as slave laborers. I heard that an American engineer, 
seized while working for the Reds in Vladivostok, is still 

118 



in Lubianka prison in Moscow. According to newly ar- 
rived slaves coming from Moscow, so is Stalin's son, Lt. 
Gen. Vassily Stalin. But a Yugoslav who had been im- 
prisoned only a hundred miles from Vorkuta told me more 
startling news. 

"I spoke with eight of your countrymen," the Yugoslav 
told me. "They said they were American fliers who had 
been shot down by the Russians over the Baltic Sea. The 
Air Force has, of course, acknowledged that several B~29s 
and B-50s on routine missions were downed over the Bal- 
tic. One of them told me he was afraid they would never 
get back to America. The Russians had reported them 
dead, saying there were no survivors of the crash." 

Prisoners being funneled into Vorkuta from camps in 
Tadzhik and Irkutsk in Soviet Asia, Omsk in Siberia, and 
Magadan in the Far East said there were many Americans, 
including veterans of the Korean War, both GIs and offi- 
cers, and South Korean soldiers, working as slave laborers 
in their camps. From what I heard, they were PWs cap- 
tured by the Communist Chinese and North Koreans who 
had been shipped to the Soviet for safe-keeping. 

Some of the Ukrainians in our camp literally fell over 
every newcomer, questioning him on what prison camp he 
had come from and how many prisoners were there. 
Through adding, cross-checking, and striking averages, 
it was possible to establish a fair approximation to the 
number of people interned in Russia. The total population 
of the Vorkuta complex lay between four and five hundred 
thousand working in mines, brick factories, power plants, 
railroad lines, streets, city and village construction, food 
transportation, prison help, and hospitals. According to 
records we were able to piece together, throughout the 
entire Soviet Union in mid- 1954 a total of twenty-five to 

119 



twenty-eight million people were held in slave-labor camps, 
concentration camps, secret camps for foreigners, PW 
camps, repatriation camps, MVD prisons, investigation 
centers, MGB prisons, juvenile labor camps, and juvenile 
detention homes. An additional twelve million not in cus- 
tody were interned in restricted areas. All told, a mon- 
strous mass of slaves and persecuted peoples. 



16 



KNOWN THROUGH- 

out much of Vorkuta simply as the "Amerikanitz," 
day and night I was pounded by my fellow prisoners with 
questions. How does a worker live in America? How long 
does he have to work for a suit? It was a generally preva- 
lent opinion that America is the wealthiest country in the 
world. One of our civilian Communist department mana- 
gers, a native of the Komi Republic, told me his people 
lived solely off American canned food during World War 
II. Most of the shoes still worn in the area came 
from American war relief. 

The Russians themselves admit the superiority. The 
first few months I was in Vorkuta, a large cloth banner 
that hung near our mine said: "Follow the example of 
American technic" (technology). Another Red poster, 
which may still be hanging in Vorkuta, exhorted the slaves 
to "approach, reach, and pass capitalist production." Even 
in Soviet propaganda films, Americans are pictured as 
better dressed than any Russian I ever met. 

I answered questions about America day and night, but 

120 



I doubt that they believed more than ten percent of what 
I told them. My wretched fellow slaves couldn't even imag- 
ine a world such as I pictured — until years later, after my 
almost daily descriptions. 

"Johnny," Alexia once told me incredulously, "you 
would have us believe American workers drive their own 
cars." 

Ivan and Vaska had been Vorkuta slaves since 1946. 
They were two of the few who survived the horrible early 
days. Vorkuta's rich coal fields were discovered in 1936, 
but they weren't exploited until 1942, when the Germans 
captured the rich Donbas coal region. The first mine was 
opened by slave labor in 1944, and by 1946 the Russians 
were expanding the area rapidly. 

Ivan told me about it. "They drove us by truck up to 
this northern region of Vorkuta. There was nothing up 
there then, just the freezing open tundra. They left us the 
truck, gasoline, a few guards and some food. 'This is your 
life,' the Reds told us, 'make of it what you can.' Only the 
Russians could have such nerve. Wood from the Vorkuta 
sawmill was transported to our isolated outpost. The first 
thing we were forced to build was a fence to enclose our- 
selves. 

"We lived in the open for over a month — in wood-lined 
holes dug in the ground and in tents. We lived off Ameri- 
can canned food. Only after the fence was done, did they 
let us build regular barracks. More than half the men died 
of exposure and overwork." 

During 1947 and 1948, the death rate was unbelievable, 
Vaska told me. "You are lucky to be here now. You have a 
chance to live. Things are much more civilized." 

I didn't feel very civilized. Despite a small improvement, 
I was starving. One day, one of my new barracks mates, a 

121 



Hungarian doctor (and ex-wrestler) came over to my 
shelf. 

"Johnny, did you ever eat a dog?" he asked. 

Normally, the thought would sicken me. But the last 
meat I had eaten was a two-inch piece of tough reindeer 
meat two weeks before. 

"How does it taste?" I asked greedily. 

"Very tender and tasty — especially when it's roasted." 

That night at work we went dog hunting. The dogs of 
the guards, and other dogs from the nearby posiyolok, 
the settlements of the "free people," sometimes wandered 
into our camp. I went equipped with a thick stick and a 
stolen kitchen knife in my pocket. We waited near the 
main mine shaft. Suddenly the doctor spotted a dog chas- 
ing around the office building. He beckoned to him. As 
the dog approached us, I swiftly brought the thick pole 
down on his skull with all my strength. He fell into the 
snow, unconscious. 

"Give me your knife, Johnny." 

The doctor cut him open deftly as if he were performing 
an extensive surgery. We let the blood run out on the snow. 
We cut the body up into pieces and roasted it on top of my 
sixty-foot slate heap. When the top pieces of slate were 
pulled back in places, a natural phosphorus in the mine 
waste started a spontaneous fire, perfect for roasting meat. 
We had a hearty meal, then hid the remaining pieces two 
feet under the snow (a natural deep freeze that could pre- 
serve meat for a hundred years) at the four corners of the 
mine office building. 

The doctor was right. Dog meat, I found, has a taste all 
its own, but if anything, it is softer and tastier than beef. 
In all, the doctor and I ate up two dogs. The pieces, kept 
hidden in the snow, fed us for months. 

122 



17 



THE DOCTOR WAS 

a very resourceful slave and a valuable friend. We slaves 
were at the mercy of the blatnois and the Red officials, but 
the doctor was not. His weapon was a supposedly powerful 
sex potion. The frigid polar weather tremendously reduced 
the sex drive of the men in Vorkuta — slaves and officials 
alike. For some, like myself, it was a blessing. It was one 
less misery. But for the civilian mine officials with wives 
and girl friends, and those who had access to prostitutes, 
it seemed worse than death. 

The doctor came to the rescue. From Georgian prison- 
ers who wrote their relatives, he got hold of a type of cac- 
tus, which arrived packed in honey. From the plant, he 
made a drug that he sold in a series of fifteen injections for 
as much as 300 rubles. His customers, including the chief 
engineer of Mine 16, swore that it was an aphrodisiac su- 
preme, but I personally never believed it had anything but 
money-making powers. 

I sometimes helped the doctor give the shots (he once 
had ten series going simultaneously), and he rewarded 
me with a rabbit, which I cooked in the powerhouse and 
devoured. 

Sex was openly for sale in Vorkuta to those who could 
afford it. For the 4500 men in Camp 3, there were ten 
women, all "free people." They worked the mine ventilators 

123 



on the surface, switching them off and on, depending on the 
amount of coal gas in the air. Their lot was not much bet- 
ter than ours. Many of them were former woman prisoners, 
who now lived in exile in the little settlement near 
the camp. They earned 400 rubles a month, which wasn't 
enough to live on. For extra money they turned to prosti- 
tution. The standard fee was twenty-five rubles. Only two 
of the women were attractive. The rest were typically 
Russian, built like trucks. Some of them were tattooed 
like the blatnois and they all cursed with a vengeance that 
put us to shame. But it didn't seem to hurt their business. 

The first years, when we had no money, the prostitutes 
were a luxury of the prisoner-officials, blatnois, and free 
people. In addition to the girl's fee, an equal amount of 
blat was required to buy off the guard. 

An experienced fellow prisoner explained the system to 
me. "The meeting place is behind the big fan of the mine 
ventilator. There is a platform there which is one of the 
warm places in the mine. If a guard who is not bribed 
should come along, the customer climbs up to the roof of 
the ventilator building through a trap door, and the girl 
explains that she was sweeping out behind the fan." 

My biggest fear after the first year of pushing the slate 
car was being forced to work down in the mine. I was half 
destroyed by working in the cold, but I had also spent one 
frightening day below watching the animal-like slaves 
mining coal. 

In June 1951 a mining commission arrived from Mos- 
cow to study coal production in Vorkuta. 

The result was an announcement that the strongest pris-< 
oners (that included me) were to work below in the mines. 
I was to be transferred the next week. Quickly I went to 

124 



see the department manager of transportation, a young 
Communist civilian employee of the MVD. 

"What can I do for you, Amerikanitz?" he asked. 

"I'm being sent below. I wonder if I could also do trans- 
portation work down in the mine. It would be better than 
digging coal." 

"Anything would be better than that," he laughed. "I'll 
see what I can do." 

I'll never know for sure, but probably because I was an 
American — and as such, a minor Vorkuta VIP — he trans- 
ferred me to mine transportation. My job was coupling 
coal cars and guiding the small trains through the narrow 
mine shafts. 

Vorkuta Mine 16 was a precarious, primitive hole. With 
little modern equipment and no conception of safety, we 
had cave-ins almost every week in which one or more 
slaves were killed or injured. The ceilings of the mine tun- 
nels often collapsed because the wooden posts that shored 
up the ceiling were spaced too far apart. The department 
managers saved the wood that was provided for shoring 
and sold it to the Komi nomads, pocketing the cash. An- 
other scheme was to show a saving of so many feet of wood 
on their monthly reports and receive a government bonus. 

The slaves who did the propping didn't care. Wider 
spacing meant less work and, since they covered a greater 
distance, a better "norm." Their safety was secondary to 
fulfilling the "norm" and getting a plate of soup to eat the 
next night. 

One time, twenty-four men were killed because of prim- 
itive equipment. We had no spools for electric cable. It 
had to be transported through the mine on the shoulders 
of two dozen of the strongest men. The cable was coated 

125 



on the outside with tin. The coating at one point was defec- 
tive. The men were soaking wet from water that dripped 
from the thawing ice on the ceiling. The result was the 
instantaneous electrocution of all twenty-four men. 

My work was in the narrow mine tunnels that connected 
the coal faces. The air in the hallway smelled sweet, like 
rotted mushrooms. When I licked my lips, I tasted gas. 
Smoking was prohibited, but the machorka hounds smoked 
anywhere. As a result, we had frequent flash fires that lit 
up the mine like day. The water dripped from the ceiling 
constantly. By the end of a day's work, I was soaked 
through. As I hurried home through the forty- and fifty- 
below-zero weather, my clothes froze into an icy board. 

Each morning I brought a piece of bread with me for 
my lunch. It was stuffed next to my body under my shirt. 
When I was ready to eat it, it was soaked like a sponge with 
water and perspiration, smelling of gas, and black from 
coal soot — but food always tastes good to a starving man. 
After eating the bread, I cupped my hands and drank the 
water that dripped from the ceiling. It was prohibited as 
being polluted, but it was refreshing. 

The hallways were six feet wide at the base, and tapered 
to about four feet at the ceiling. The coal-car tracks took 
up most of the width except for a foot-wide wooden trough 
for the falling water that ran along the edge of the tunnel. 
When a coal car passed, I had to jump to keep from being 
crushed. Where the hallway was wide enough, I could press 
snugly against the wall between two pieces of shoring and 
watch the car pass within inches of my chest. Usually, 
though, I had to dive face-first into the wooden trough, 
my body kept as much out of the water as possible by el- 
bows and knees. 

126 



My brigadier, a Russian German from the Volga Basin, 
explained my duties. 

"We have no automatic switches here, Amerikanitz," 
he said. "You have to set up the coal trains by coupling 
the cars, then ride up front and throw the switches your- 
self." 

He made it sound simple. Actually, as I found out, I 
had to make up physically what the Russians lacked in 
modern equipment. I rode at the head of a long train of 
small coal cars. I stood on the bumper, the searchlight on 
my pressed cardboard helmet trained on the dark tracks 
ahead. There were no lights other than my searchlight. I 
scanned the tracks as carefully as possible for open 
switches. The switches were placed at random all over this 
catacomb network of coal tracks. When I saw an open 
switch in time, about five or six feet ahead, I jumped off 
the bumper, threw the switch, then raced for cover against 
the wall before the train ran me over. A few moments later, 
I waved down the engineer of the locomotive thirty cars 
back. He stopped and picked me up. 

Sometimes I couldn't make the switch in time. The first 
time this happened, I had been bobbing my head up and 
down to let the searchlight dance all over the tracks. I 
knew one of the switches was somewhere directly ahead, 
but I didn't know exactly where. Then, suddenly, my head- 
lamp froze in place just three feet ahead of the train. It 
was a switch, wide open. There wasn't enough time to 
close it, so I jumped off the train, pushed desperately 
against the mine wall beside a shoring post, and waited 
for the crash. When the coal train hit the open switch, it 
tumbled off the tracks and piled up in a mass of cars and 
spilt coal. One of the cars fell right across the shoring pro- 

127 



tecting me, coming to rest only inches from my chest. If it 
had fallen just a little in the other direction, the point of 
the car would have pierced my chest. 

These crashes became a regular part of my job. Once, 
a car split a shoring and brought down a portion of the 
ceiling. I was bruised badly by the falling stones. 

The mine was poorly maintained. One day, after throw- 
ing a switch, I noticed that the steel "feather" that connects 
the two otherwise disconnected rails hadn't closed prop- 
erly. I rushed out from my alcove refuge and held the 
feather with my hand until the front wheels caught. It was 
a risky move. I pulled my hand back quickly. In another 
instant my fingers would have been crushed by the wheel. 
As the back wheel approached the faulty switch, I held 
the feather again until the wheels caught, but when I 
pulled back this time, my mitten was caught in the switch! 
I yanked my hand out of the glove just as the wheel rolled 
over it. 

I repeated this little game of split-second timing sixty 
times, for all thirty cars. There was no alternative. If I 
missed once, the train would have jumped the tracks and 
crushed me to death. I got a strange reception when I 
asked my brigadier to report the faulty switch to the de- 
partment manager. 

"Leave well enough alone, Amerikanitz," he said. "I'll 
tell him what you said, and you'll end up digging coal like 
an animal, on your hands and knees. Do what you can 
with the switch. The officials don't want to hear about 
your trouble." 

My switchman's version of Russian roulette started to 
disturb me greatly after a while. I longed to get out of the 
mine. It was in February 1953 that my new department 
manager, Chumboritsa, a Communist Party member from 

128 



Georgia, made the dream come true. I had spoken to him 
once or twice about America, and he remembered me. 

"Amerikanitz, how would you like to work upstairs for 
a change?" Chumboritsa asked one day. "There's an 
opening in the officials' washroom." 

It was the nicest question anyone had asked me in 
seven years. I started working in the washroom the next 
day as an attendant. It was a new world. 



18 



I WORKED TWENTY- 

four hours on and twenty-four off — my first chance for 
real rest in years. I slept through my days off for the first 
month or so, and gradually the constant fatigue of the 
Vorkuta sleeping sickness began to leave me. The wash- 
room was the cleanest and warmest room in the mine. I 
had a place to wash and dry out my clothes, and soon I 
became a sartorial wonder for a slave laborer. The wash- 
room was next to the mine office, and the young Commu- 
nist executives would change their good clothes in the 
washroom and leave them with me. On the night shift, 
they would often come in just to keep warm. 

For me it was a university education in Soviet life. There 
are three kinds of "free people" in Vorkuta; they are the 
Red executives, actually civilian employees of the MVD, 
who have been assigned there; workers from all the Soviet 
Union, who have come to Vorkuta for the "long ruble/' 
•the Arctic bonus pay; and former slaves who have com- 
pleted their sentence and are now in lifelong exile. 

129 



There were fifty "free people" in Mine 16 — forty work- 
ers and ten Communist executives: the chief engineer, his 
assistants, department managers, and chief mechanics. 

I washed out their shirts, gave them towels and soap 
for their showers or bath, and generally made myself use- 
ful. They were genuinely intrigued at my being an Amer- 
ican, but at first they tried hard to keep our relationship 
stiff and formal; I was only slave l-E-241. But the temp- 
tation to discuss America was too much for them, and in 
a few months we were all good friends — sitting in the wash- 
room talking through much of the cold nights. Often, 
when they bought some delicacy — like a piece of real 
cheese — they would bring the leftovers to me. It was all 
very wonderful. 

The average free worker, other than an executive, I 
found, is completely dissatisfied not only with Vorkuta 
but with the Soviet Union. The ones I met weren't politi- 
cally sophisticated enough to discuss communism or capi- 
talism, but they knew concretely that they just didn't make 
enough money. They lived in one of the four villages or 
thirty posiyoloks, dreary little settlements with a store and 
a row of one-story barracks-like buildings in the shadow of 
the coal mines. Each family had one room and shared a 
communal kitchen. 

"I make eight hundred rubles a month," one of the 
mechanics told me. "I have figured it takes at least 1500 
rubles for two to live at all. My wife works in Vorkuta too, 
for 600 rubles, but it's still not enough." Another free 
worker only made 450 rubles in our mine. The "long ruble" 
these people were seeking at Vorkuta was long, but not long 
enough to reach from payday to payday. Yet, had they been 
working in any other area — excepting a few capital cities 

130 



and propaganda mines — their ruble would have been exactly 
half as long as it was here in Vorkuta. 

For the average "free worker" in Vorkuta, clothes were 
prohibitively priced. The ruble is worth twenty-five cents 
at the official rate, but it is actually about one fourth that 
in purchasing power. 

From my Communist washroom companions, I learned 
that the situation is much the same all over the Soviet 
Union. Except for executives, Stakhanovites (high 
"norm"), and highly skilled workers, it is a nation oi 
families living in one-room apartments, existing on sub- 
standard salaries. The Kremlin for several decades has 
been siphoning off the profits of Socialist industry for 
heavy industrial expansion and armament production. 
The singular exceptions are the large cities like Lenin- 
grad and Moscow, where workers get as high as double 
pay, although they too live one family to a room. Red 
leaders vividly remember that their own revolution started 
in the large industrial cities. They have no intention of 
having history so painfully repeat itself. 

There is a tremendous disparity of pay in the worker's 
paradise. The director of our mine group, Bulbenkov, was 
paid 35,000 rubles a month — 500 times more than the 
average worker. He and his wife paraded in heavy fur 
coats and caps and drove a horse and buggy, a great 
luxury in Vorkuta. Bulbenkov called himself a "true Com- 
munist." 

My greatest washroom pleasure was arguing with the 
young department managers, all graduates of Soviet tech- 
nical schools, members of the Komsomol (Young Com- 
munist League), and now members of the Party itself. 
They are the elite of the Soviet. 

131 



Like all Russians, they have heard strong rumors about 
prosperity in America, but are completely confused after 
reading their government's propaganda about Wall Street 
and the starving workers. As the ice between us broke, 
they felt me out carefully. 

"Amerikanitz, tell me about how rich your American 
workers are," one of the young department managers 
asked me, laughing, but with little enthusiasm. 

Each time I described economic conditions in America, 
I could see their eyes open like those of awed school chil- 
dren. My comments verified the rumors they themselves 
had heard from Russians who had contact with the West, 
mostly in Germany after World War II. Their curiosity 
was insatiable. "How much do shoes cost? Can a poor boy 
go to college? Do workers actually drive cars? Do you 
have television in the United States?" 

"Well, you may have prosperity there, but it's only a 
bubble that will burst," one of the seven department man- 
agers told me half-heartedly. "When we get prosperity in 
the Soviet it will be forever. It may not be for five genera- 
tions, but then it will be permanent. Perhaps it is not so 
good here, but budit, budit, it will be, it will be." 

Budit is a key Russian word. Actually, those who 
haven't already become cynics waiting for the Communist 
Utopia to arrive try to hypnotize themselves. When I 
asked: "What about life in Russia, meanwhile?", they 
shrugged. "That is true. It is sometimes very hard for 
some people." 

These seven young men typify Russia's future. They 
have the most to gain from communism, but I would say 
that at least three of them (at the age of 23 to 25) are 
already cynics. Their pay is presumably excellent, about 
3,500-4,500 rubles per month, about equal in purchasing 

132 



power to that of an' average American worker. But they 
too were dissatisfied. One third of their pay went for in- 
come taxes, and one of them told me their compulsory 
social contributions — for Party dues, youth fees, and other 
purposes — equaled 800 rubles per month! Room and 
laundry were cheap, about 50 rubles a month, but after 
food, clothing, and vodka (at 50 rubles a bottle) they had 
nothing left. 

One of the young men, Shuisky, a native of the Komi 
Republic, was a prominent Communist, a member of the 
Town Senate of Vorkuta. One day he came running into 
the washroom to tell me he was getting married. "Now 
my wife and I will have a room for ourselves," he boasted. 
"It will be much better than living the way I am now, 
with two other men in one room." His "furniture" was 
being made from rough lumber by a few of the slave work- 
ers as an extra job. 

The Communists openly admitted to me that there is 
little freedom in the Soviet. The freedom they missed most, 
personally, was the opportunity to quit a job and take an- 
other. They hated their assignment in Vorkuta and looked 
longingly at photos of Moscow and sunny southern Russia 
in Soviet Union and other magazines. Some of them half- 
heartedly defended the lack of freedom. "Our government 
has a job to do. It could not control the people if they had 
freedom." 

Except for one man, they were far from being Communist 
fanatics. The Party was strictly a means to a career for 
them. Few had any idealistic concern with communism. 
"Of the four and a half million Party members," one esti- 
mated, "I would say only five hundred thousand have any 
interest in world revolution." 

While I was in that washroom, I played heavily on their 

133 



doubts about life in the Soviet — doubts that were also 
strengthened by foreign radio broadcasts. The average 
Russian three-tube set that is openly for sale doesn't have 
enough range to reach the Voice of America, BBC, Radio 
Free Europe, or the West German stations. But the de- 
partment managers, as trusted personnel, could and did 
buy short-wave radios. There is no Soviet law against lis- 
tening to such programs as far as I know. A number of 
them confided to me that they often tuned in the West. I 
would say it is fairly effective despite its limited audience. 

One thing they still wouldn't believe, no matter how much 
I talked, was that the average American worker had his 
own car. 

They have heard a lot about racial discrimination. When 
non-Communist Russians eagerly asked about America, 
almost always they asked, "How about the Negroes?" 
They read daily of lynchings and murders of colored peo- 
ple in the United States, and they believed, as a conse- 
quence, that the Negroes' lot was as bad as that of the 
prisoners in Russia. There is a deep reason behind the 
question. They know that the only help in destroying 
communism they ever can expect is American help. When 
communism is overthrown, the United States will have 
some say in Russian affairs, and these men fear that they 
will be treated as they believe the Negroes are treated in 
America. 

The people of the Soviet know that the government 
plays loose with the truth. Coal production in Mine 16 
was 600 tons a day. Yet our published norm, which we 
always fulfilled on paper, was 1000 tons. Lying about 
production figures (in every phase of Soviet economy) 
goes all the way up the Soviet scale, and nobody takes 
them seriously. One day one of the free workers came 

134 



running in with a copy of the Kutchigarka (the Stoker), 
the local Vorkuta newspaper. "Comrades, look how good 
we are," he said, laughing. "They say Mine 16 has hit a 
record production of 2500 tons!" 

Actually it never went higher than 900. One of the de- 
partment managers sat down in the washroom with me 
one evening and thumbed through a copy of Pravda. He 
pointed out article after article, "That's not true. That's a 
lie. That's not true either." 



19 



THE WASHROOM 

was not only an intellectual delight and a place to keep 
warm. It was a bathing place for the wives of the Red of- 
ficials; none of them had showers or baths in their homes. 
They came in once a week. Most of them were young, and 
a few of them quite goodlooking. I gave them soap and a 
towel while they undressed right in the foyer of the wash- 
room in front of me. Soviet women are not modest. They 
took off their dresses, slips, and ankle socks worn over rayon 
stockings (black cotton in the winter), and stood around 
talking to me in their brassieres and panties. Then, in the 
privacy of their bath they undressed completely. Russian 
women are exceedingly buxom. As they get older and 
heavier their heft is no particular adornment, but some of 
the young girls are attractive. 

The days the women came in to bathe, the washroom 
was crowded with free workers and executives who had 
flocked in on the pretext of having to speak with me. They 

135 



stood around, watching the women disrobe and passing 
vulgar wisecracks. "Oh, that one is real nice," an engineer 
said about one of the partially nude bathers. The young 
lady wisecracked back just as glibly. 

The slave laborers working on the mine surface stared 
at the women entering the bathhouse as if they were visi- 
tors from another planet. Two men climbed into the attic 
of the washroom and drilled holes in the ceiling directly 
over the bath the women used. They spent two months in 
the bor for their week of short-lived pleasure. 

Life in the washroom was better than any I had known 
in Vorkuta. In fact, conditions improved for everyone a 
little. In 1952, the MVD decided on a bold plan. They 
started to pay the slaves a small salary. Starvation, low 
morale, and self-disablement had hurt coal production 
badly and the Kremlin hoped a few rubles' incentive might 
help. 

My pay in the washroom was approximately 410 rubles 
a month, out of which the camp took almost 300 rubles 
for my "room and board," and another fee for the camp 
administration. I was paying for my own imprisonment! Of 
the remaining 110 rubles, I paid 22 a month in "with- 
holding" income taxes to the Soviet government. The rest, 
about 88 rubles, was mine to spend. This was $22 at the 
official rate but, in purchasing power, much closer to $6. 

Workers down in the mine who oversubscribed their 
"norms" sometimes earned 130 or 150 rubles, but they 
were allowed to draw only 100 of it, less taxes. Those who 
didn't fulfill their "norms" were paid nothing and were put 
on killing punishment rations besides. 

The extra few rubles gave our slave camp some super- 
ficial aspects of civilization. In the camp canteen we 
bought tea, margarine, sugar, and marmalade for snacks 

136 



after the slightly reduced evening meal. On free days we 
could go to the "restaurant" to buy extra cabbage soup, 
kasha, or fish. But the extra money didn't go very far. 

Many men used much of their salary for prostitution, 
others for pure alcohol (at 130 rubles a pint!) which, when 
fixed with tea, was a powerful antidote for Vorkuta mo- 
notony. I drank this polar moonshine only once. Seeing 
embittered slave laborers a little tipsy and cutting up like 
teen-agers was strange enough. On my twenty-eighth birth- 
day the Hungarian doctor bought a pint of alcohol for 
the occasion. I contributed a can of sliced Mexican pine- 
apple which had cost me the equivalent of $4.00, and we 
had a festive time. 

Even the gornyaki, the most dull-witted coal miners, 
who used to crouch in their two-and-one-half-foot-higb 
tunnels, seemed to come out of their living death a little. 

The Soviet incentive plan worked, in that Vorkuta coal 
production rose 20 percent. But it backfired dramatically 
in another, more vital way. As half-starved animals we 
had no strength or courage to protest. With fuller bellies 
we looked objectively at our plight for the first time. We 
were fed up with the inhuman working and living condi- 
tions, the impossible cold, the persecution by the blatnois, 
the MVD stukachey, the long winter nights, the monotony, 
and mostly the hopelessness. 



20 



MANY OF THE 
free people and the guard component were as fed up with 
Arctic isolation as were the prisoners. There was bitter 

137 



conflict between the "red boards," the Red army men, who 
were responsible for guarding the area outside the barbed 
wire, and the "blue boards," the MVD who handled camp 
policing and administration. 

"The MVD get six times our pay, and many of them 
live in town with their wives," a Red army soldier once 
told me. "They have dancing, movies, vodka and women. 
We live here in barracks not much better than yours. This 
winter, ten boys standing guard on the tundra have com- 
mitted suicide already." 

The Red army looked on the MVD as glorified police- 
men and jailers, and the hostility often broke out into fist 
fights. Basically, the army enlisted men were sympathetic 
with the slaves. 

Our own discontent was unorganized. We had groups 
formed strictly along national lines, but they were not 
united. The Baltic peoples had the strongest organiza- 
tions (only a compatriot could share their bacon) and 
the Russians the weakest. The MVD found it difficult to 
plant informers among the Baits, but they had a few 
Russian stukachey still loyal to the Kremlin ("The re- 
gime has made a mistake in my case," they said) who 
heavily infiltrated the Russian groups. 

There was no central slave-laborer organization to co- 
ordinate such a mad dream as a rebellion. Each camp 
was separated from the other by a twelve-foot fence and a 
hundred yards of tundra. Our only contact was through 
transferred prisoners, whom we always interrogated thor- 
oughly for news outside our mine group. There was ob- 
viously no communications system for a full-scale uprising 
against General Derevyenko and the Kremlin. 

There were isolated bits of sabotage. In Mine 7 a few 
spirited ex-Communist Soviet students stole dynamite 

138 



sticks from the coal-blasting department, a few at a time. 
When they had stolen enough they blew up their power 
station and blasted one of the mine shafts. Then, from a 
prisoner transferred from Camp 2, I heard how 2000 men 
had organized to clean out the blatnois. 

"We were almost rid of the tattooed monkeys," this 
slave told me. "Little by little the murderers in our camp 
were released or sent to Novaya Zemlya, and we had some 
peace. Then, one day, over a hundred more were brought 
in, and split up about five to a barracks. The MVD lieu- 
tenant said there was no separate barracks for them. The 
first day, one of the blatnois in my barracks put his open 
shapka (cap) down on a stool and said: T want it full of 
rubles when I return in an hour.' Many were afraid, and it 
was full when he came back. Then the next day the same, 
and again the next. Soon it was getting too much even for 
the cowards among us. 

"We developed a plan. Those in the mine stole copper 
wire there and the electricians made bells from home- 
made parts. We connected the barracks with an alarm 
system. Then, one night, about three a.m., it rang 
throughout Camp 2. At the same instant, every barracks 
overpowered its handful of blatnois and took away their 
knives and hatchets. We emptied one of our barracks and 
locked all the blatnois in. We poured stolen gasoline over 
it and lit a fire. If it were not for the guards who put out 
the flame and freed the blatnois they would all have 
burned for their crimes. But we were rid of them anyway. 
They were all shipped out the next day." 

But rebelling against the blatnois and rebelling against 
the Soviet government were obviously jobs of different 
dimensions. The Vorkuta intelligentsia sat around dream- 
ing of a rebellion or a mass strike against the Kremlin 

139 



but the average Russian just couldn't understand such a 
concept. 

"They are mad dreamers," one moujik (peasant) who 
had fought Soviet collectivization in the 'thirties told me. 
"I have lived under the Communists for thirty-five years 
and I have never seen anyone oppose them and win. What 
have we to rebel with? Our bare hands?" 

The moujik made sense. Yet, within a few months' time 
three closely related incidents were to set the stage for a 
dramatic, violent uprising of 100,000 slaves of Vorkuta 
— the first rebellion against the Soviet monolith in thirty- 
five years and one of the most significant political events 
of modern times. 

Stalin, not Derevyenko, Beria, or even the cold, was 
our mortal enemy. Each of us felt personally imprisoned 
by the "Moustache," or the "Old One," as he was often 
called. We painstakingly studied his most recent pictures 
in Pravda. One slave hopefully commented: "He doesn't 
look too well to me. See his eyes — how old and tired they 
are." 

Then, the first days of March, came the news we had 
waited so long to hear. Stalin had been stricken with an 
apoplectic fit. "May the devil take his soul today!" the 
prisoners prayed, on their knees. The morning of March 
6, 1953, his death was announced over the loudspeaker 
in Mine 16. 

I stood among a mixed crowd of soot-covered slave la- 
borers, free workers, and Red officials and watched their 
expressions. My fellow slaves lit up with hope. "He lived 
too long — the old dog," one prisoner yelled. An old man 
got down on his knees in the water. "Thank God, some- 
one still looks out for the wretched." The faces of the free 

140 



people were immobile. No one uttered a word of praise 
for the dead dictator. 

The next day, the cautious administration had Stalin's 
portrait removed from the front of the coal locomotive 
and replaced it with Lenin's picture. "Who knows?" one 
of the department managers commented to me in the 
washroom. "In a few months' time maybe the old one will 
be called a traitor." 

Stalin's death sent a wave of frenzied expectation 
throughout Vorkuta. "Maybe Uncle Zhorka [Malenkov, 
the new premier] will close all the slave camps and free 
us all?" Vaska asked me one day. "What do you think, 
Johnny?" 

I wasn't quite that optimistic, but for the first time in 
its history, Vorkuta awaited each new day hopefully. The 
first months of Malenkov's regime, however, were sur- 
prisingly uneventful. The release of the Jewish doctors 
whom Stalin had falsely accused of plotting murder was one 
good sign. 

On April 14, Beria's birthday, we heard rumors of a 
general amnesty. "Don't believe it, Johnny," one of the 
old-timers in my barracks said. "It's only more parasha" 
(latrine rumors). Later that day, an amnesty was de- 
clared by Beria for all prisoners serving five-year sentences 
or less. But it was only a shallow bid for national popular- 
ity that hardly affected a single political prisoner. In all, 
5000 men were released from Vorkuta, mostly blatnois 
and workers arrested for chronic absenteeism. Eight hun- 
dred of the released blatnois were soon back in camp 
after they had started a murderous wave of robberies and 
knife stabbings in town, killing 1200. 

The free workers spoke almost lovingly about the new 

141 



premier. In a short time, the amount of consumer gooas 
— shoes, shirts, suits, bicycles, clocks — in the stores of 
Vorkuta and the posiyoloks had almost doubled. Prices 
too had dropped. 

But in Camp 3, Mine 16, slave life went on unchanged. 
We waited for some word, some sign from Malenkov or 
Beria rejecting the slave brutality of Stalin. But it never 
came. 

April and May, bitter, disappointing months, passed 
without change. Vorkuta rumbled badly and the sabotage 
became more frequent. We were ready for trouble of some 
kind. We needed only a spark to set it off. 

This came in June — two events, hard on the heels of 
each other. Early in the month, over Radio Moscow, we 
heard of the arrest of our jailer, MVD chief L. P. Beria, 
for "treason." (He was executed on September 23, 1953.) 
The news of Beria's arrest shocked the local MVD ad- 
ministration. Every "Blue" from Derevyenko down to 
lowly nadsiratel (guard) expected to follow Beria into 
Lubianka or perhaps become one of us for participation 
in Beria's plot — whatever that may have been. A few of 
the guards nervously asked us: "What do you think will 
happen now?" 

It wasn't clearly defined until later, but the MVD de- 
tachment in Camp 3, as well as throughout all the 
U.S.S.R., became openly split. In private conversation, 
some admitted loyalty to Beria, others to Premier Malen- 
kov. Beria's arrest became a powerful catalyst, and the 
ground swell of tension rose to the surface. Slaves began 
insulting the administration and the MVD informers more 
openly. "We're cowards," one Estonian in my barracks 
said one day. "The Kremlin can't control itself, but a half 
million of us in Vorkuta jump when they sneeze." 

142 



On June 18 we heard even more startling news. My 
friend Ivan came rushing over to my shelf. "Johnny, it's 
in Pravda. The East Germans have rebelled. Come look 
for yourself." I joined a group crowded around a copy of 
Pravda pasted on the wall. Someone was reading the 
story out loud. Pravda naturally blamed the East German' 
riots on American subversion, but the story of strike 
against higher norms and the open fighting in the streets 
of Berlin was surprisingly candid. Every time the article 
mentioned the Berliners' resistance, we cheered. Their 
spirit inspired us and we discussed nothing else for days 
after. (Months later, some 200 heroes of that day, East 
Berlin boys from sixteen to twenty-two, arrived in Vor- 
kuta to start five- to twenty-year terms as slave laborers.) 

The next month we were cocky slaves. The long sum- 
mer sun had melted the snow, and its warmth was renew- 
ing our energy and courage. We discussed the chance of 
striking for our freedom, but no one seemed to know what 
to do. Many men, especially the Russians who were deathly 
afraid of informers, were unable to make a decision. 

Fortunately it was made for us. The morning of July 21, 
when I reported to the washroom, one of the department 
managers spoke to me. 

"It's finally come, Amerikanitz. Mines 17 and 18 are on 
strike. Derevyenko himself went into the barracks and 
asked them to go back to work. They just laughed. 

"But don't think it will do Camp 3 any good," he 
goaded me. "Everyone has to fight for his own freedom." 

At 5:00 a.m. that morning, the workers of Mine 17 had 
fallen out for rasvod, the morning roll call, with secret 
instructions from an elected leader not to report to work. 
They demanded to be taken back to the barracks instead 
of to the mine. "When the barbed wire comes down," one 

143 



of them told the guard, "we'll mine coal again. Not until." 
The guards tried to be firm, but without specific instruc- 
tions from Derevyenko to shoot, they knew there was 
nothing they could do. 



21 



REPORTS OF THE 

strike in Mine 17 soon traveled throughout our Mine 16. 
All during the day, rumors kept coming in through the 
free workers. The strike had spread to Mines 9, 10, and 
25. There was more talk than work that day. "Amer- 
ikanitz, do you think it's true or is it just more parasha?" 
one of the men asked me that night. I knew it was true. 
"Shuisky told me in the washroom," I said. "He's a good 
Communist and they want to prove that they're well in- 
formed." 

The next day, July 22, the skeptics were convinced. 
Mine 7 in the camp next to us had joined the strike. The 
wheels in their mine elevator were not turning. For a while 
full coal cars came through (the rail line went through 
our mine). But later that day, the Mine 7 coal cars were 
three-fourths empty, and emblazoned in chalk across the 
inside of each car in big bold Russian letters was written: 
"TO HELL WITH YOUR COAL. WE WANT FREE- 
DOM." There were hand-written leaflets pasted all over 
the cars, addressed to us. "Comrades from Mines 12, 14, 
and 16. Don't let us down. You know we are striking." 

Immediately we formed our own strike committee. Our 
strike leader was Gureyvich, the Russian Jew and former 

144 



Soviet diplomat. His committee was made up mostly of 
Russian intellectuals, some still Marxist, but all violently 
anti-Soviet. One of them, a Russian German, once had a 
trading post in the Volga. Although he had been pro- 
Stalin in attitude, he was summarily imprisoned during 
World War II along with thousands of Russians of Ger- 
man ancestry. 

That night a few members of the committee came to 
see me in my barracks. "We haven't decided when to go 
out with the others, Amerikanitz," Gureyvich confided, 
"but when we do, you will have one of the most important 
jobs. It will be your responsibility to convince the Red 
department managers not to interfere. They respect you 
as an American — no one has forgotten all the equipment 
and food your country sent over during the war." 

I had a chance to put the plan into effect the very next 
morning. The second week in July, fifty prison boxcars 
filled with slaves, guarded by a tender car bristling with 
machine guns, had arrived in Vorkuta. The prisoners were 
from the Karaganda slave camp in Kazakhstan Republic 
in southeastern U.S.S.R. They were being sent north be- 
cause of the acute labor shortage in Vorkuta. Some 20 
percent of all our slaves were now cripples. As an induce- 
ment the Karagandas had been promised higher wages 
and resettlement in Vorkuta as free exiles, with excellent 
housing. 

But the government had lied. The Karagandas were 
split up among the Vorkuta camps and settled as regular 
prisoners. About two hundred were brought into our 
Camp 3. That morning, July 24, the Karagandas in our 
camp, aware of strikes going on elsewhere, refused to 
work unless the government promises were carried out. 
One of the promises was that they would be issued 

145 



mining clothes, which slaves did not have. When the 
Karagandas refused to work in their regular clothes, the 
brigadiers went to the storeroom with them, to see what 
they could find. No order was passed on for the Kara- 
gandas to receive the clothing, and so they stood about, 
protesting. 

Meanwhile, the workers down in the mine were await- 
ing instructions concerning their work. The free engineers 
and supervisors, who wanted to line things up so that pro- 
duction could start rolling, had to change into overalls 
before going down into the mines. To change, they had 
to come to my department, which meant that my role in 
helping to start the strike was about to begin. 

The first department manager to come in was, luckily, 
one of the friendliest. He looked around, spotted me, and 
patted me on the back, saying, "At last you fellows have 
courage enough to put up some resistance. I'd better go 
home; I need sleep." 

"Wait," I begged him. "Try to take your twin along 
with you." The "twin" was an exceedingly hard-boiled 
Communist. Both men were abnormally short, hence the 
nickname. I had hardly spoken when the other "twin" 
hurried in, ready to rush into the mine and get things 
organized. 

"Are you crazy?" his companion said. "The slaves 
will kill you. You'll be lucky if they shut you up for a day 
or so in the elevator. Why don't you come along with me? 
I've got a bottle at home, and when we reach the bot- 
tom we won't know who's who, anyhow!" 

They both laughed and went out together. More en- 
gineers came in, one after another, some cursing, some 
grinning. I reached for their overcoats and had these on 

146 



their backs before they knew what was happening. I 
opened the door, bade them a very pleasant weekend, and 
ushered them out. Without a word, but with a nod or a 
wink, they left for home. None left with his overalls, none 
went to the mine. 

Only the boss, the executive engineer, was still unac- 
counted for, but not for long. "Where are all my engi- 
neers?" I heard him shout. He had poked his head in the 
dressing-room door. 

"Why, they've all left," I said. "The mine is at a stand- 
still, and they have nothing to do." 

"Now what?" was all he had to say. Holding his over- 
coat for him, I suggested that he call off the second shift 
and send the first shift home. They were only costing him 
money, I said, and there was no production anyway. He 
left with a curse, called off the second shift, and never 
came back till the storm was over. 

I fell back on the dressing bench in relief. "Thank God 
they're gone," I said to myself. My job was done. It wasn't 
much of a job, really, but it helped. 

I left with the rest of the first shift. Back in the camp, 
everyone wanted to know how it had started. 

Meanwhile, posters with strikers' demands were being 
put up throughout the camp. The strike date was set for 
July 25. But it was only the twenty-fourth, and the strike 
was already underway. 

Our strike slogan was "Not an ounce of coal for the 
plan." A list of demands was drawn up: 1. Removal of 
the barbed wire. 2. Barracks to be kept unlocked at night. 
3. Release for all charged with violations in connection 
with the war. 4. Release of all political prisoners who had 
served ten years or more in Russian prisons. (I had served 

147 



nine!) 5. Thorough check of the trial of all political prison- 
ers. Release of the innocent. For the rest, setting of new 
lower sentences in accordance with international law. 

"I think we have valuable allies," one member of the 
strike committee confided to me. I soon saw what he 
meant. I spotted one of the MVD guards coming out of 
our outhouse. I walked in after he left, and pasted high on 
the wall was a printed strike leaflet that hadn't been there 
a minute before. We have excellent allies, indeed, I 
thought. Some of Beria's loyal underlings had obviously 
helped to start our revolt or were using it to their own ad- 
vantage to foment discontent against the Malenkov 
regime. 

Meanwhile thirty of the Karagandas who had refused 
to work that morning were arrested by Tchevchenko. 
Immediately Gureyvich, the strike committee, and some 
2000 other prisoners stormed down toward the prison. We 
stood before the gate, called out strike slogans, and yelled: 
"Free the Karagandas!" Major Tchevchenko, with his 
perennially sickly appearance, came out and tried to calm us. 

"There is no cause for trouble, men. I promise that the 
Karagandas will be released before six o'clock tonight." 

It was then 3:15 p.m. We decided to wait and see. 
But a few minutes later, several chornie vorons (police 
wagons; literally, "black ravens,") drove up with several 
police cars and four truckloads of troops. They had ob- 
viously come to take the Karagandas off Tchevchenko's 
hands and bring them to the central prison. About one 
hundred Red army and MVD troops commanded by our 
harsh MVD lieutenant of restriction, who had been in 
Vorkuta only two weeks, piled out of the trucks and sur- 
rounded the camp gates. 

We cursed violently and almost in unison, and shoul- 

148 



der to shoulder rushed to bar the troops' way into the 
camp. We were successful. They had to retreat. A "stool 
pigeon" showed up among us and tried to persuade us to 
let the troops in to take the men. He had hardly begun 
talking when a mob rushed him. He was taken off to the 
hospital. The MVD men tried a new plan to lay hold of 
the thirty Karagandas. Since the bor was off limits, it was 
possible for the MVD to cut through the fence and reach 
the bor from the rear. As soon as we saw what was going 
on, a new wave of protest shattered the air. 

Suddenly, the thirty Karaganda prisoners, who had 
overcome their three drunken guards, dashed out of the 
prison into the yard. We set up a tremendous yell of jubila- 
tion. A second later, the MVD lieutenant ordered: "Open 
fire!" 

I was pinned against the administration building fifty 
yards from the troops, caught in a crossfire of sub- 
machine-gun and rifle bullets. I pressed flat against the 
wall and mumbled a prayer. From where I stood I could 
see that all fifty Red army men and a few of the MVD had 
disobeyed the lieutenant and were not firing. Next to the 
lieutenant a Red army soldier had his submachine barrel 
pointed stubbornly down to the ground. The MVD lieu- 
tenant put away his own pistol, impatiently grabbed the 
soldier's weapon and started firing. 

The firing lasted only twenty seconds, but it seemed 
like eternity. When it was over, fifteen of our men lay 
wounded on the ground. Two were dead, and others were 
taken away to die. One of the two dead men, due to be 
released in only two months, had the top of his head 
blown off just in front of me by an explosive bullet fired 
by Molkov, the hated guard. A stray bullet went through 
the hospital window and punctured the lung of a patient 

149 



in bed. I turned to look at the wall behind me. Two feet 
over my head, a submachine gun had cut a twisted pattern 
of bullet holes in the wall of the building. 

We were enraged. After looking at the dead and 
wounded, Gureyvich signaled to some of the committee, 
and together they walked to the front gate. Staring into 
the muzzles of a hundred guns, Gureyvich addressed 
Tchevchenko, Buikoff, the lieutenant, and all the guards 
in a sharp commanding voice. 

"The strike committee is officially relieving you of com- 
mand of Camp 3 and Mines 12, 14, and 16," he said. 
"From this moment on, we prisoners will be in complete 
charge. No officers or guards will be allowed within the 
gate without permission of the strike committee. If the 
lieutenant or Molkov attempts to enter, he will be killed 
without a hearing. If you want to stop us, you will have 
to shoot all forty-five hundred prisoners now. Meanwhile 
not an ounce of coal comes out of the pits for Leningrad." 
We cheered our hearts out. 

It worked. No one fired, no one raised a defiant hand 
to stop us. Only the young woman feldshar was allowed 
in to care for the wounded. Within a few minutes, we had 
rounded up three MVD guards and a senior lieutenant 
still lurking in the camp area, and unceremoniously 
kicked them out the front gate. With a touch of courage, 
our coal strike had been transformed into an uprising. 
The great Vorkuta Slave Rebellion of 1953 had begun. 

We immediately formed what was, for all practical pur- 
poses, an independent slave republic. A member of the 
strike committee was put in charge of each barracks. A 
young Russian graduate of a Soviet technical school was 
put in command of mine. All the food in the stolovaya, 
the canteen, and the restaurant was commandeered, and 

150 



new higher rations were set for all. The prisoners in the 
bor were released. We appointed our own police, but it 
was hardly necessary. Perfect discipline was maintained. 
The separate national groups became welded into one. 
The morale of the men, exhilarated by the fresh breath of 
freedom, was fantastically high. We would gladly have all 
died together to keep it. 

Not one of our 4500 men worked the mines, including 
the brigadiers and desetnicks. A few free workers were 
permitted to man the pits — to work the ventilators and 
keep the hallways clear of coal gas, and to pump excess 
water out— but not one lump of coal was allowed to be 
removed. 

During the entire melee, the once-fierce blatnois sulked 
in their barracks like spanked youngsters. They were 
completely unable to decipher what strange force had 
turned their world upside down and robbed them of their 
power. 

Seven known informers were dragged from their bar- 
racks and brought down to the front gate. We threw them 
to the MVD outside. "Here are your stukachey" Gureyvich 
told Captain Buikoff. "We can't guarantee their lives in 
here." 

Not long after the shooting, we made our own flag, a 
plain Red banner (the hammer and sickle is the Com- 
munist Party flag) bordered in black cloth in memory of 
our two murdered comrades. We raised it at half-mast on 
a tall pole over the stolovaya. Fifteen minutes later, from 
the electric power station across the hill, another red-and- 
black flag, an exact duplicate of ours, rose — magically, 
it seemed — up a pole into the sun. A few minutes later, it 
happened at Mine 7. Then, one at a time, as far as the 
eye could see across the tundra, the new red-and-black 

151 



banner of slaves-made-free replaced the Soviet flag over 
much of Vorkuta. 

We kept in contact with the other camps through the 
sympathetic free workers. In this way the strike demands 
of each camp were almost exactly tide same. We unani- 
mously agreed to deal only with a representative of the 
Politburo in Moscow or with a member of the Central 
Communist Party Committee. 

We learned that the pattern of strike followed by an 
insurrection had taken place in most of the camps. They 
too had driven the MVD out the gate and assumed com- 
plete control of everything within the barbed wires. In 
Mine 40, the largest and most modern in Vorkuta, there 
had also been MVD violence. A few men were shot defy- 
ing the order to go to work. From our sources, we knew 
that the electric power station, the railroad camp, and 
some thirty-five coal camps had joined the uprising. Be- 
tween 85,000 and 100,000 slaves were on strike. 

The Kremlin was paralyzed in its own internal power 
struggle and afraid to issue definite orders on how to han- 
dle the slave rebellion — other than with "extreme caution." 
We knew that Malenkov's nervous, unstable new regime 
needed the coal badly and could not afford to have the 
uprising spread. 

The MVD ranks in Vorkuta were split. Some officers 
and men (who they were — perhaps Tchevchenko himself 
— were known only to the strike leaders) were helping 
us by adding to the official paralysis. Their hope was that 
the rebellion would spread throughout the slave empire 
and act as a lever to unseat Malenkov, free Beria, or at 
least protect his appointees from extinction. 

We heard that similar uprisings were taking place 

152 



through the 20,000,000-slave GULAG slave region. 
Eighty-one Japanese slave laborers from Karaganda who 
have recently returned home corroborated this. Two 
hundred slaves in their camp had been cut down by tanks 
and machine guns in a small but similar uprising that 
summer. Free people later brought us news that our up- 
rising sparked strikes everywhere: in the Ural ore mines, 
in the coal mines outside Moscow, on the enormous col- 
lective farms of the Ukraine. 

Later in the afternoon of the first day of the strike, three 
hundred soldiers were deployed around our camp in newly 
dug trenches. I could see machine guns and mortars being 
put in place. 

At 6:30 p.m. Captain Buikoff requested permission to 
enter the camp. He came through the gates unarmed and 
unescorted and read a statement from General Derev- 
yenko. 

"As of yesterday, July 23, 1953," Buikoff began (the 
veins in his thick neck stood out in embarrassment), "all 
prisoners will receive up to three hundred rubles a month 
compensation. The bars are to be removed from the win- 
dows of the barracks, the barracks will no longer be locked 
in the evening, evening roll call will be eliminated. With 
the permission of the commanding officer, prisoners may 
receive visitors from home once a year." 

The men listened, smiles spread across their faces, as 
Buikoff continued his list of official concessions. The slave 
numbers were no longer required on our clothing; an at- 
tempt would be made to provide better housing, food, and 
clothing. Soviet citizens could mail letters once a month 
instead of twice a year. (I still couldn't write a postcard.) 

From what he said, the same concessions were being 

153 



•made to all the striking camps. Buikoff finished the 
Statement without one word about our returning to work, 
then turned on his heel and walked out. 

Up to triple pay! No more bars! We cheered lustily. The 
rebellion was only a few hours old, and the nervous ad- 
ministration had already granted us important conces- 
sions. We rushed to the barracks, shouting and yelling, 
and ripped the bars from the windows with our bare 
hands. 

"Come, Amerikanitz, give me a hand," one of the 
Ukrainians called. He was pulling the hinges off the door 
that held the heavy iron crossbar lock in place. Some 
were joyfully tearing the slave numbers off their clothes. 
Others, however, said, "No, I will keep my number on 
until this number doesn't exist any more." On paper the 
number existed as before, even if it was ripped off the 
clothing. My number, l-E-241, was reserved for me 
whether I wore it or not. Later, punishment was threat- 
ened for all who did not want to take it off. But many men 
felt lost without a number on their clothes. Their stupid, 
dead life had become a formula and they had forgotten 
how to think. They took the wrong clothing by mistake 
— and it really didn't matter: clothes were all alike, any- 
how, and no one had the right size to begin with. 

The next three days, July 25, 26, and 27, were pure 
bliss. Nature had joined forces with us and granted us 
cloudless sunny days. The temperature hit 70 degrees. All 
over Camp 3, men basked on the tundra soaking up the 
sun and discussing the amazing chain of events. I sat 
with friends by the fence, and we congratulated ourselves 
on our luck thus far. A Red army soldier patrolling in 
front of us stopped and asked through the gate: "What's 
going on? Have you gained anything?" We told him about 

154 



Derevyenko's concessions and our good life these last 
three days. "Good," he answered. "We're on your side. I 
don't care if you strike until doomsday. No Red army 
men will ever fire on you." 

Actually we were biding time, waiting for a Kremlin 
representative, the only one who could agree to a reduc- 
tion of sentences. But Moscow had kept perfect silence. 

On July 27, Derevyenko himself, a short, stocky man 
of fifty with a gray-haired crew cut, came to speak with 
us, accompanied by Dochtin, the Minister of Internal 
Affairs for the Komi Republic. They too were unarmed 
and unescorted, although, of course, there were 300 troops 
with mortars and machine guns directly outside the fence. 

They continued the kid-glove treatment that had thus 
far characterized the official attitude. Derevyenko walked 
from one group to another, talking in a fatherly, solicitous 
manner. "Don't you think it would be best to go back to 
work in the mines?" he asked me and the others. "You 
have won most of your demands. What more do you 
want?" 

"We are waiting for the Kremlin," a member of the 
strike committee told him. Just before he left the camp, 
Derevyenko announced that MVD General Masslenni- 
kov, holder of the Order of Lenin and Deputy Minister of 
Internal Affairs for the entire Soviet Union, was flying up 
from Moscow to talk with us. 

Masslennikov's visit, one of the free workers told us, 
was the result of six days' frantic pleading by Derevyenko 
for Moscow to take a firm stand. 

The news was heralded as another strike victory, but I 
believe many of us, deep in our hearts, were worried. Mass- 
lennikov had a reputation for both shrewdness and cruelty. 

The next day, the twenty-eighth, another beautiful day, 

155 



we buried our two dead. Fifty free women from the posi- 
yolok a half mile away were waiting at the gate to throw 
flowers on the funeral truck. I thought it was a fine symbol 
of sympathy with our stand. The burial was on the open 
football field, where four and a half thousand of us, 
wearing black mourning ribbons cut from what once was 
our slave numbers, filed by to pay our respects. 



22 



ON THE TWENTY- 

ninth, at noon, Ivan ran into my barracks. "Get up, 
Johnny! The Moscow general, Masslennikov! He's coming 
down the road!" I got off my shelf and ran down to the 
gate just in time to see a long black car drive into camp 
between two lines of one hundred heavily armed guards. 
Masslennikov got out, and the limousine made a U-turn 
and parked between the lines of MVD troops, its nose 
pointed toward the open gate. Outside there were at least 
five hundred troops patrolling. 

An entourage of thirty officers, mostly colonels, fol- 
lowed Masslennikov to the football field, where we had 
set chairs and a long table for them in advance. 

They had come ostensibly to hear our demands, and 
we were quite ready for them. The strike committee had 
chosen twenty speakers to present our viewpoint. Four 
and a half thousand slaves in one strong mass were as- 
sembled on the football field facing the Kremlin brass. I 
had a choice position up front. 

It was the most stirring scene I had ever witnessed in 

156 



my life. First, Gureyvich presented our demands for re- 
view and reduction of sentences, and freedom for all men 
who had served ten years. Then, from the ranks, one 
man at a time stepped out to speak — lowly slave laborers 
given a chance to pour out to one of the Soviet's mightiest 
their bile about Red indecency. And presumably Mass- 
lennikov had to listen. 

The speeches were moving, intelligent, and biting. A 
former professor of history of the University of Leningrad 
said, in starting, that he knew it would mean an extra 
ten years as a slave. Masslennikov protested violently: 
"Nyet, nyet. You can all speak freely." The professor did. 
He traced the history of slavery from pre-Pharaoh times, 
through the slave trade on the Gold Coast. "But never in 
the story of man," he said, "has working slavery been so 
extensive or so cruelly exploited as here in the Soviet 
Union — the 'liberator' of the working class!" 

We passionately cheered each word. "Vot! Vot! That's 
it! That's it!" I yelled with the others. 

The next speaker was a former Red army officer. "I 
was raised under communism and wanted no other way," 
he began. "During the war I was decorated many times. 
I took seventeen bullet wounds and returned to fight 
again. The eighteenth time I was wounded I fell uncon- 
scious on the field. When I came to, I was a German 
prisoner. I escaped and spent the rest of the war fighting 
the Nazis with a band of Soviet partisans. In 1946, when 
our government learned I had once been a German pris- 
oner of war, I was sentenced to twenty years in Vorkuta. 
Now I have come to the conclusion that communism 
breeds only slavery." 

A Pole spoke for the foreigners. Two former high Soviet 
bureaucrats spoke about the abuse of Marxist doctrine 

157 



and its perversion in the Soviet Union. It was an exhilarat- 
ing experience, listening to free men speak their minds, if 
only for a few minutes. 

Masslennikov was pale. He listened with head bent for- 
ward for over an hour. He was obviously shocked. In his 
thirty years of bolshevism, he had never heard such words 
uttered publicly. He never spoke, except to interrupt oc- 
casionally. "Remember, you are insulting the great Soviet 
Union." When the speeches were over, he got up and left 
for the next camp without a word. 

Masslennikov completed his rounds of the striking 
camps the next day without making a dent in the strikers* 
unity. None of the camps had agreed to return to work. 
The uneasy truce continued. The slaves rested, but they 
were not relaxed. They joked, but the jokes covered up 
internal restlessness. 

Then, on August 1, three days after our meeting on the 
football field and exactly ten days since the beginning of 
the strike, I was coming out of the stolovaya at 6 a.m., 
after breakfast, when I saw something strange. The men of 
Mine 7 were being removed from the camp and taken out 
into the tundra in small groups under heavy guard. After 
about thirty groups had been assembled, they started to 
return, one group at a time, to the camp. 

An hour later we found out what had happened. The 
MVD had let the first group of Mine 7 men go back to 
camp without a word. "You see," they told the second 
group, "the first group has agreed to return to work. Will 
you follow their example and report at the pits this morn- 
ing, or do we have to shoot you all now, right here on the 
tundra?" One MVD officer asked each group the same 
question by prearranged order. 

That broke the strike in Mine 7. The MVD troops who 

158 



had executed the threat were not from Vorkuta. They 
were part of a special guards regiment of 1200 MVD 
men brought in by Masslennikov to quell the rebellion. 

At 9 a.m. General Masslennikov drove up to our gate 
and asked for Gureyvich. His battalion was deployed on 
the tundra in battle formation. 

"You can see the elevator wheels are already turning 
in Mine 7. It would be wisest to follow their example," 
Masslennikov said. "The ultimatum is work or death." 

Gureyvich pondered a few seconds. "Give us twenty- 
four hours to think it over," he said. 

Masslennikov looked at him distrustfully, but answered, 
"Agreed." As events turned out, Gureyvich's mastery of 
the diplomatic stall had saved the lives of many of us. 

From our camp, Masslennikov and his troops moved 
up the road to Mine 29 on the hill next to us. We were 
cut off from events for over an hour. Then, at eleven 
o'clock we heard a violent outburst of gunfire that filled 
the empty tundra for two full minutes. A few minutes later 
there was a call for all camp doctors to rush to Mine 29. 
Masslennikov had broken the back of their rebellion with 
a blood bath. 

Later, I was able to reconstruct the scene. Masslennikov 
had driven up to the camp gates in a car equipped with a 
loudspeaker, backed by his 1200 troops surrounding the 
fences. Two and a half thousand slaves, arms locked, 
were packed in front of the gates. 

"Go back to your barracks!" Masslennikov called over 
the loudspeaker. "Follow the example of the other mines. 
They are already working in the pits." The crowd yelled 
back insults and crowded closer to the fence. 

At Masslennikov's hand signal, a squad of troops pushed 
open the gates and advanced single file about fifteen feet 

159 



into the camp. But as the prisoners walked toward them 
defiantly, they turned and ran. A few minutes later, two 
giant fire hoses were pushed through the side fences. Four 
bulky Ukrainian prisoners rushed over and jammed the 
nozzles shut. When the pumps were turned on, the 
water trickled harmlessly on the tundra. 

"I warn you, go back to your barracks!" Masslennikov 
ordered again. When no one moved, the MVD chief de- 
cided to try psychological persuasion. 

"All those who want to return to work, come outside 
the gate." 

Every prisoner's eye swung in a circle around him and 
glared as fifty men of the 2500 walked out. 

Masslennikov looked disgustedly at the small group 
and yelled: "Get back in!" 

He called out on the loudspeaker the third time. "End 
this rebellion now. Go back to your barracks. Organize 
yourselves to work. This is the last warning I will give 
you." Even before Masslennikov had completed his tirade, 
the slaves chanted back, "To hell with your coal. If you 
won't give us freedom, we'll take it ourselves!" 

As the prisoners stood by the gate, the heavy machine 
guns, set up twenty yards from the fence, and the massed 
infantry opened fire. The machine-gun staccato punc- 
tuated the screams of the wounded for two full minutes 
until no one was left standing. Blood was over everyone. 
One hundred and ten had been killed instantly. More than 
five hundred were seriously wounded. Masslennikov ordered 
the gates opened and barked orders to the living to come 
out on the tundra. Those who still refused to work would 
be killed on the spot. The survivors wailed as they stepped 
over the bodies of their fallen comrades and walked to- 
ward the gate. 

160 



The next day, when we learned of the Red bloodletting, 
we too returned to work. Then, one at a time, an hour or 
so apart, other camps surrendered to the MVD. By late 
that afternoon, the uprising was over. 

The next week, the MVD made up in severity for its 
indecision during the strike. Every few hours another man 
was dragged away and sent to a central bor set up for 
strike leaders. In all, 7000 Vorkuta slaves were arrested, 
300 from my camp. Three MVD officers and two guards 
from Camp 3 were also arrested and charged with help- 
ing to inspire the rebellion. Colonel Burtiev, one of Derev- 
yenko's chief assistants, was discharged from the MVD. 

Of the 7000 seized, 300 were executed without a trial. 
One thousand men were transferred to the Far East, and 
the rest were given additional three-to-five-year sentences. 
These, with the exception of a few, were never seen or 
heard of again. I never again saw Gureyvich or the heroes 
who had so eloquently spoken for us that day. 

I worried myself half sick all during the bloody week of 
retaliation, waiting to be taken in with the others. All it 
would take was one word from anyone on the strike 
committee who knew my role. But they went to their Maker 
without incriminating me. 



23 



BY OUR WESTERN 

standards, I presume, the slave rebellion was a failure. 
We had struck for freedom and we were still GULAG 
slaves. But that is an oversimplification. The mere fact 

161 



that the rebellion took place at all in the Soviet Union 
made it an instantaneous, glorious success. Its effect on 
the Communist world was electrifying. The people of 
Leningrad, in letters to free workers in Vorkuta, expressed 
sympathy with our cause. Just as the East Berlin riots 
drove the Soviet to a more conciliatory attitude toward its 
satellites, so we 100,000 slaves in those ten days showed 
the Kremlin that its own internal solidarity is a sham, a 
carefully poised egg that must be handled gingerly. If 
nothing else, the story of this first organized resistance to 
the Soviet mammoth in thirty-five years, this strike of slave 
workers in the "worker's paradise," has traveled the in- 
terminable Russian grapevine and given hope to 20,000,- 
000 GULAG slaves and perhaps not a few of commu- 
nism's "free workers." 

Vorkuta never quieted down. A triumphant spirit, 
buoyed up by the wage increase we had won, was 
the strike's heritage. In February 1954, a section of the 
office building in Mine 7 was blown up by a homemade 
bomb. Then the generator of the electric power station 
was partially destroyed. An MVD search of our mine 
turned up 400 sticks of dynamite planted to blow up the 
main elevator shaft. 

In 1954, in a shift of slaves planned to weaken our pris- 
oner organizations, I was moved into Mine 29, the scene 
of the August 1 massacre. The men in my barracks 
proudly showed me the healed wounds of that day. Almost 
every man carried one or more scars, and bullet holes still 
gaped in every wall. 

At this point I had lost all hope of an early release. I 
had been taken out of the washroom and put on a killing 
lumber job. During the strike, for no logical reason, I 
somehow expected a wildly careening chain of events that 

162 



would end up with me as a free man back in Detroit. But 
that dream was over, and there were eleven years left to 
my sentence. In all my time in Vorkuta, I had never been 
interrogated, and it disturbed me. There were times when 
I hoped for some official sign that they knew of my exist- 
ence. God knows — I might become one of the "forgotten" 
men I had heard about, living out my life in slave camps, 
lost in the morass of Soviet bureaucracy. 

I had just one glimmer of hope — a three-by-five piece 
of cardboard — a postcard they had never allowed me to 
send to my folks in the United States but which I had 
sent out over the name of another prisoner. 

Only a selected few prisoners had the privilege of send- 
ing cards through the International Red Cross to their 
relatives. I was not one of these, and, besides, America 
was on its way to becoming world enemy No. 1, according 
to Soviet propagandists. One of the barbers in Camp 10, 
Rudi Rohrig, was one of the few (he also is free now). 
Rudi never received answers to the cards he sent; conse- 
quently, he didn't care about making full use of the privi- 
lege any more. Even so, he considered it dangerous to al- 
low others to capitalize on his privilege. The censor knew 
so intimately the history of every prisoner that one could 
not hope to get away with writing to a new address. 

Luckily, in May 1954 the censor was replaced by an old 
MVD colonel. Would he be as well informed as his pred- 
ecessor? We decided to take the chance, although the 
card still would go out over the name of Rudi Rohrig. It 
was addressed to a distant relative of mine in West Ger- 
many. 

A day or two after the card was mailed, Rudi had to go 
to shave the officers. The old colonel, under the straight 
razor, asked Rudi why he had written to others than his 

163 



relatives — and why he had asked for everything under the 
sun. "They will think we really are poor when they get this 
card," he said. 

"Well," Rudi said, "others make a little money in the 
mine, but I don't get anything extra to live on. And I had 
to write to neighbors, because my relatives never answer." 

"If that's the case," said the colonel, "I'll let the card go 
out this time. But don't ever dare write a letter like that 
again." 

We wondered if the card would get through; and, if it 
did, whether the recipients would rightly interpret the 
words "noble nephew" and send the card on to Detroit. 
They did send it to my family, but I did not learn this for 
more than half a year. 

Early in June, I was eating my cabbage soup in the 
stolovaya when the nevalney, my barracks master, rushed 
in excitedly. "Amerikanitz, the camp commander is look- 
ing for you. You have orders to proceed to Moscow." I 
looked up at him and laughed in my soup. A few minutes 
later, a friend came in with the same news. 

I rushed nervously to the Administration Building and 
stood at attention before MVD Lieutenant Antrashkevich. 
"You are to leave for Moscow at 7 A.M.," he said. 

"To Moscow?" I asked. 

"As far as I know, you're going home," Antrashkevich 
said. 

I heard him, but the words didn't sink in. I wouldn't let 
them. The thought was wild. Why should I be released? 
There was no general amnesty. I had so lost touch with 
the world that Vorkuta and its regulations were the only 
reality I understood. But I prayed, just in case. 

Very few prisoners of Arctic camps lived to see freedom. 
Few were transported back to Moscow. A few handfuls 

164 



left in November or December 1953, but no one ever 
heard whether they were finally released or were held in 
some other camp. The American Homer Cox was among 
them. 

Now that it was my turn to leave, I wondered what lay 
ahead. 

A slip with fourteen questions had to be signed in the 
various departments — kitchen, bathroom, stockroom, li- 
brary, office, and even the political branches. 

I didn't get much sleep that night. Many men of the 
various nationalities came to me to ask if I would send 
word to their loved ones when I was free. Others wanted 
me to pass on to the free world the true condition of the 
slaves, so that their eyes might be opened and they might 
avoid a similar end. 

There were others I should have liked to talk to a little 
more, so that I might give details to responsible authori- 
ties. Among these were some who had been only a few 
days in our camp, deported from their home town because 
they knew too much. They had lived close to the place 
where the first two Soviet atomic tests were made. The 
Kremlin gang did not want the world to know that the un- 
finished bombs and the laboratories were blasted. Foreign 
instruments recorded the explosion, and the Soviets were 
obliged to announce it as a successful test. Were all testa 
equally successful? 

The sleepless hours of that night flew by, and before 1 
knew it hundreds were up to wave farewell as I was 
marched to the railroad by an unarmed guard. 

I was taken to Camp 15. Outside the gate a fellow slave 
worker was repairing the fence. "Te tagshay Amerikan- 
itz? — Are you also an American?" he asked. I replied with 
a nod. 

165 



"We have two of your countrymen here who are also 
going away." 

A few minutes later I met U.S. Army Privates Marchuk 
and Verdine. We rode together to the railway station. It 
was a pleasure to speak English again, although I was 
careful with every word I said. I did not know these two 
men, and their meeting me could be a trap. True, the 
Soviets knew I didn't share their view of life and would 
never become a Communist; also, I had committed no 
crime. There was nothing, therefore, to be afraid of, noth- 
ing to avoid talking about. But the years in Communist 
prisons had taught me that they will turn your words any 
way they want to, and for this reason I was on guard. I 
was particularly careful with Marchuk, because he spoke 
a very good Russian. Verdine, on the other hand, could 
not speak the language so fluently, and I felt more con- 
fidence in him. 

Marchuk told me he had gotten drunk in a bar in Berlin 
and wandered across the Red border. Verdine said he 
had been kidnaped while on duty at the demarcation line. 

As we spoke I kept thinking. "Why three Americans 
traveling together? Are we going to a special slave camp 
for Americans? Could there be another reason? Was there 
a chance that Antrashkevich was right?" 

At the Vorkuta station, I walked right up to the parked 
Stalopinski and waited for the MVD officer walking behind 
me. He laughed: "No, no, Amerikanitz. That's not for 
you any more. Get in the train!" 

The three of us, without handcuffs and accompanied 
by two MVD officers, traveled in a civilian passenger train 
from Vorkuta to Moscow. 

The officers explained that they did not speak English, 
and so our conversation with them had to be in Russian. I 

166 



would have believed them if they had not fallen so easily 
into a trap. Sitting on the upper bench, which was 
for sleeping only, with Marchuk and Verdine, I asked the 
Americans what time it was. I kept my eyes on the Rus- 
sian officers below. Automatically the officers looked at 
their watches. I knew, then, that they understood English. 

It was to take four days to reach Moscow. Because 
there was no diner, we had cold meals. As we stopped 
at stations on the way, children and old women would run 
alongside the train, selling a hot potato, an egg, a ladle of 
milk. Chains of beggars filed through the cars, old and 
young, sick and blind, complaining that they had no work 
and no home. The officers kept them moving along, but 
it was obvious that, before us Americans, the beggars were 
a cause of embarrassment. 

The officers did not seem to object, however, when girls 
and women traveling on the train undressed at night down 
to their underclothing before lying down to sleep. A very 
few had colorful pajamas, which they not only wore sleep- 
ing but when they left the train to shop along the platform. 
Even after we arrived in Moscow, some went into the street 
in their pajamas. 

Moscow was a big change for us. A dozen or so MVD 
officials were at the station to receive us. We were escorted 
to a bus — which from the outside I recognized as a prison 
car with cells. This took us to Boutyrki, the Soviet Union's 
most elaborate prison. After all extras were taken from us, 
we were shown to our room. This was a large three-bed cell, 
with fresh sheets, all the comforts, and even a clean toilet 
pail. 

The next day two colonels visited us. They asked how 
we were, and I, speaking for the three of us, asked what 
was coming next. 

167 



"You are not going back to a slave camp," said one. 

"Where would you like to go if you were set free?" asked 
the other. 

Almost in unison we replied, "To the U.S.A." 

Soon after the visit was over we were called down to the 
reception room where, wonder of wonders, our measure- 
ments were taken and we were asked what color of suit we 
preferred, and what style of shoes and hat. 

Two weeks passed, and we were impatient. The fitting 
had been completed and we were eager to go. Finally, 
wearing our prison clothes and with our new outfits in 
small suitcases, we were taken to a camp in Potma, some 
three hundred miles to the southeast in the Mordvinian 
Republic. Potma (Camp 5110-34) had held many Czarist 
prisoners at one time. 

We were marched to an old, relatively small camp. Our 
suitcases were taken into security, we were checked in and, 
surprisingly, told to report for work at 8:00 a.m. 

Three army cots were assigned to us in a half-empty 
room facing the gate. Within minutes the room was 
crowded. Dozens of questions were put to us: where from, 
what camp, when arrested, destination. The question as 
to our next destination interested us most. "Where can you 
go from here?" I asked. 

Potma, they explained, was the repatriation camp. 
Sooner or later we should be going home. No one works 
here, they said, except for camp upkeep. This was at vari- 
ance with what we were told at the gate. Was someone 
fooling us? 

The next morning we did not report to work. A guard 
soon came and hauled us off to the camp commander, 
Lieutenant Litwinenko. He dressed us down for not obey- 
ing orders. I explained to him, on behalf of the three of 

168 



us, that we had been told in Moscow we were not going to 
another slave camp. If they wanted us to work they would 
have to send us back to a work camp. I told him that pos- 
sibly most of the Yugoslavs, Austrians, Germans, Greeks, 
Spaniards, and Hungarians in this camp had fought 
against Russia at one time or another. But we Americans 
had done all we could to help Russia win the war. With- 
out our help, I said, getting warmed up, Russia would 
have been wiped off the map. Now the camp administra- 
tion wanted us to serve as examples so that they could 
force all those men to work for them. 

Litwinenko's face was red with anger. Where had I 
learned Russian? he wanted to know. 

"I learned it in your own camps," I said. He shook his 
head and mumbled that I could talk better than a Russian 
lawyer. 

We did no work at Potma, except for light chores. With 
the help of European Red Cross packages, my ninety- 
five-pound frame took on thirty more pounds. They must 
be fattening me up for something, I thought — almost 
hopefully. But when months had passed and nothing had 
happened, I nearly lost hope. 

I managed to send a postcard to an aunt in Berlin. 
Wonder of wonders, an answer came some weeks later. 
God must have intended that I receive this reply, for the 
guards were doing all in their power to keep me incom- 
municado. The censor, Major Baron, was on vacation, and 
the girl who had taken over promised to let me read any 
mail that might come, but she would have to take it back. 
Unfortunately, Baron returned on the day of mail delivery 
and was ready to take over. The girl merely picked up the 
cards that had come from the postoffice and, without hav- 
ing censored them, handed them to Baron in the camp, 

169 



among the men. Baron read out the names on the cards. 

He read my name, and had I been right before him he 
would have remembered not to give the card to me; but 
someone quicker than his mental process grabbed for it, 
passing it on to me. It was the first line I had received, the 
first sign of life from the free world. It was September 26, 
1954, more than nine and a quarter years since I had seen 
my mother. She and my father, thank God, were at home 
in Detroit. The card did not, of course, let me know what 
they were doing. I could not know at that time that the 
Soviets had stolen our home in Dresden, our clothing, our 
furniture, and our camera factories. The cameras (Prakti- 
flex, Practica, and others) were sold and still are being 
sold in almost every American camera store. The profits 
go to the Communist Party. It was not enough that they 
should hold my father for seven years, or that I was still in 
their hands. They were doing everything to ruin us, even 
in the free world, by misusing trade marks and patents and 
by spreading false statements. 

One thing the card did tell me, and that was that I was 
not alone in the world. 

I was told that from that day I was a different human 
being. Now, more than ever, I protested, wrote petitions, 
demanded my rights. No fewer than twenty-five petitions 
were yet to be answered by the Soviets, but I was deter- 
mined to rock their nerves. 

The weeks in Potma again were moving slowly. New 
prisoners arrived every day. Periodically, men and women 
left for their homeland and freedom. A few days before I 
was to depart, an elderly woman arrived who was very 
much in the eyes of the guards. She was "Madame 
Gorskaja," the first wife of the new Soviet boss, Nikita 

170 



Khrushchev. She said virtually nothing about him or 
about their life together. 

At last, on the evening of December 30, 1 was told that 
I was going back to Moscow on January 2, 1955. True to 
their word, I left Potma, arriving in Moscow on the third, 
the subject of what seemed VIP treatment at the hands of 
the Soviets. My new civilian woolen suit was given to me, 
and with Marchuk I was barracked in a fine home in the 
Bukova suburb of Moscow. I slept on the first real bed — 
a hard but real, individual bed — in more than nine years. 

That afternoon a special delegation from the Kremlin 
itself came to see us. I jumped when I saw it was headed 
by General Masslennikov, the butcher of Vorkuta! He 
was accompanied by four colonels. 

"You will leave for Berlin tomorrow, Mr. Noble, where 
you will be turned over to American authorities," Mass- 
lennikov said. "Meanwhile you will be shown Moscow by 
one of our officers." 

I was really going home! And of all the irony, I was 
hearing it from Masslennikov! I was deliriously happy, but 
I controlled myself in front of the Russians. 

Masslennikov shook my hand, then asked casually: "By 
the way, where were you in the Soviet Union?" 

When I said "Vorkuta," the color drained from his face. 
"In which mine?" he asked, trying to maintain composure. 
"Mines 16 and 29," I answered. I was enjoying the game. 

He squinted at me nervously, then asked: "Do you rec- 
ognize me?" 

"No," I lied, cautiously. 

"Did you take part in the strike?" 

"Certainly," I answered proudly. "We all did." 

171 



I spent the rest of the day seeing Moscow. I was not 
particularly impressed. Some of the main streets looked a 
little like those of western cities, but to go a hundred feet 
off a main thoroughfare was to take a trip back to the eight- 
eenth century. The same people who had abused me for 
nine and a half years were now treating me as if I were a 
visiting schoolteacher on a summer vacation. 

The next day, Marchuk and I, chaperoned by an MVD 
colonel, boarded the famous Blue Express from Moscow 
to East Berlin. Along the way, I thought how differently I 
was making the trip this time. In 1950 I had covered the 
same route on my stomach in a stinking Stalopinski. Now 
I was having a 35-ruble dinner on white tablecloths in the 
dining car, by courtesy of the MVD. 

I was amazed at my own calmness as we rolled through 
Soviet and Polish territory. Every now and then a new set 
of officers would check our papers. "Where's the third 
man?" they would often ask. They were asking about 
Verdine, no doubt. 

"I signed for him," the colonel would answer. 

I couldn't imagine why they kept Verdine in Potma. The 
Soviets knew we would report his whereabouts as soon as 
we were free. Or were we not to be free? 

American officers would meet us at the train, we were 
told. But we had learned that the more rank the Soviet 
officers display on their shoulder boards the less they tell 
the truth. The colonel accompanying us kept pointing out 
factories along the line and telling us the fine things that 
were made there: no arms, no tanks, nothing but the good 
things of life. As an example of what the factories were 
making, he called my attention to the charming little lamp 
on the table before the train window. I, in turn, pointed to 
a cast mark on the lamp which said "Made in Germany," 

172 



and asked him if he might be mistaken. A cold smile and 
a change of subject was his reply. 

Crossing the German border was an interesting experi- 
ence. The train was examined from top to bottom. Every 
slit was checked. A spy might send a communication from 
Moscow to Berlin in a wall crack. 

, Later I was to learn why I was returning home in such 
fine style. Word brought to the U.S. by Homer Cox 
showed the door, and the postcard I had mailed over Roh- 
rig's name from Vorkuta was the key. As soon as this 
reached my parents in Detroit, my father brought it di- 
rectly to the State Department. The State Department dis- 
patched another note to the Kremlin — from 1945 to the 
summer of 1954 the Russians had answered all U.S. 
notes with the statement that they had no knowledge of 
me. After the evidence was in the hands of our State De- 
partment, one note was sent after another, but the Soviets 
ignored them. Not one of these notes was acknowledged. 

Meanwhile Congressman Alvin Bentley of Michigan 
had become interested in my case. He discussed it with 
President Eisenhower personally. In December 1954 the 
President sent a diplomatic note to Ambassador Bohlen 
in Moscow stating that our government had proof that I 
was a prisoner in the Soviet. Mr. Bohlen took it up directly 
with the Kremlin and soon I was on my way home. 

The Blue Express brought me into East Berlin at 2:50 
p.m. on January 8, 1955. No American officers were there 
to meet us. Fifteen minutes later I was in a room in Karls- 
horst, Soviet East Berlin HQ. There, I almost lost control 
of myself when a U.S. army liaison officer and two State 
Department officials walked in. One of the officials, Mr. 
Pratt, the U.S. consul in Berlin, signed a receipt for me. 
I must confess that, even though I had gone through nine 

173 



and a half years of degradation, starvation, Arctic cold, 
and the hardest of physical labor, I broke down at this 
moment. My resistance gave way and I cried with joy. 

I was in the hands of the American authorities. Outside, 
I walked down the steps and into a State Department car 
that drove me to West Berlin and freedom. I had crossed 
a border that separated two worlds. The world of fear, 
terror, deceit, Godlessness, and slavery was behind me in 
the east. I was returning to the west, to a world of busy 
people developing their lives according to their abilities, a 
world of freedom and of moral standards almost unknown 
to the people of the Communist realm. From the Soviet 
Union, truly the richest country in respect to natural re- 
sources, but the poorest nation, I had come to a world 
of plenty which too often was not appreciated, for which 
too often gratitude was not expressed to God. 

"Well, how does it feel to be back?" Mr. Pratt asked me. 

I thought of Vorkuta, then looked out the window at 
the passing spectacle of the Western world. It was as if I 
had spent nine and a half years on some fierce, distorted 
satellite of the earth. 

"Thank God," I answered. "I have so much to tell, I 
could not express it in words alone, Mr. Pratt." 

At 1:30 a.m., the morning of January 17, 1955, I 
landed at Idlewild Airport, where I saw my family again. 

I had been a slave in Russia; now I was free! 



174 



APPENDIX 



APPENDIX 

The following Soviet account provides an example of the 
manner in which the Communists fabricate and distort 
facts with which to feed their propaganda machine. Their 
purpose is to develop, in the Communist world, a greater 
apathy toward the West, and to convince the free world 
that the Soviets have good reason to violate international 
law and the basic rules of human behavior. 

YESTERDAY THE NOBLES- 
TODAY GENERAL GEHLEN* 

by Max Seydewitz 

WEST BERLIN newspapers are publish- 
ing slanderous reports by American John Noble without, however, 
referring with one word to the criminal role which he and his father 
played as imperialist agents in Dresden during the Nazi war. The 
past of the Nobles and their activities in Germany are illuminated 
by Volkskammer Representative Max Seydewitz' book The De- 
struction and Reconstruction of Dresden. Following is an excerpted 
chapter from the book which is to be published shortly by the 
Kongress Verlag: 

"The connections between American and German monopoly 
capitalists which never ceased during the war were intensified con- 
siderably toward the end of the war when the defeat of Hitlerite 

* Translation from Taegliche Rundschau (Soviet occupation daily), Janu- 
ary 13, 1955. 

177 



Germany and the failure of its world domination plans were in- 
evitable. The efforts toward the establishment of a joint front 
against the Soviet Union, which had to be abandoned at the be- 
ginning of World War II because of the German imperialists' 
aggressive attempt at attaining world dominance, once again moved 
to the fore. 

•The more the Soviet army cut the Fascist Wehrmacht to pieces 
and the more evident the total military defeat of Germany became, 
the more inclined were the defeated German imperialists to accept 
the offers of the imperialist American billionaires. This showed, 
during the last weeks of the war, also in the attitude of the Nazi 
leaders who were seeking opportunities to offer their services to the 
American imperialists. The secret collaboration of German and 
foreign destroyers of Germany which was gaining impetus toward 
the end of the war had many severe consequences for the German 
people, one being the destruction of the beautiful city of Dresden. 

"In the final phase of the war, many of the important British 
and American agents, who were staying in Germany by order of 
their bosses, revealed their identity to the Nazi leaders. Many a 
Dresden resident will have wondered why the beautiful, large villa 
San Remo in the White Deer district, located in the immediate 
vicinity of the Loisenhof , was occupied by an American citizen by 
the name of Noble and his family who lived like millionaires and 
on whom no Nazi authority imposed any restrictions, save intern- 
ment, as was the usage in times of war. Noble, let us presume, 
had been recommended by the gentlemen of the Standard Oil 
Company or General Motors to their business partners of the IG 
Farben as a particularly important person. Noble, it was indicated, 
was to organize, in the now declining war, the close cooperation 
of the German and American monopolists. So this American was 
persona grata also to the Nazi authorities. Noble's duties naturally 
included intrigues and espionages against the Soviet Union, and 
the gravediggers of Germany assisted him all too willingly. This, 
however, did not keep Noble from also spying on the Third Reich. 
For information on the Soviet Union which he received by wire 
from agents of his bosses in Wall Street and which he passed to 
the Nazi leaders, he obtained in return confidential information 
)on Germany which he transmitted to his managers by wireless 
from villa San Remo. 

178 



"Thanks to the good work performed by Nazi-informed Mr. 
Noble, the Anglo-American headquarters had the best knowledge 
of conditions prevailing in Dresden. British Air Marshal Harris 
and General Spaatz, commander-in-chief of USAAF, knew exactly 
that Dresden was jammed with refugees and wounded. They knew 
the exact location of the densely populated residential quarters, 
of the 'Zwinger,' the 'Frauenkirche' and other cultural monu- 
ments and churches. They also knew where Dresden's military 
targets lay on which no bombs were dropped on February 13. 
They explicitly forbade the fliers to drop bombs on the White Deer 
district, for the Anglo-American headquarters by no means wished 
to endanger the life of its precious agent living in this area. For 
this reason, the White Deer was one of the few districts which were 
spared in the February 13 and 14 air raids. 

"Although the Nazi leaders knew that the terror raid on Dresden 
had been directed by Mr. Noble, they refrained from arresting and 
punishing the American after the monstrous crime committed 
against the art city of Dresden and its population. The reasons 
therefor we find in a telephone conversation which Goebbels con- 
ducted at 4 a.m. on February 14 with Mutschmann who was sitting 
in a safe place at Grillenburg. In their conversation on the effects 
of the bomb raid on Dresden, which was taken down in shorthand 
and a stenographic report on which was available at the end of the 
war, Goebbels instructed the Saxon Gau leader 'not to lose contact 
with Noble,' for the man cannot be weighed up in gold.' 

'Thereby Goebbels referred to the assistance which Noble had 
promised to the Nazi leaders for the time after the surrender. We 
can imagine what Noble and Mutschmann discussed during their 
secret meetings. The agent of the American billionaires certainly 
told the bankrupt Nazi Gau leader bluntly that the Nazis had lost 
their war and could save their future position only by surrendering 
to the men in Wall Street and by unconditionally recognizing the 
world-wide supremacy of the U.S.A. However, they would have 
to prove their readiness by immediate action, including their avail- 
ability for the fight against the Soviet Union and their assistance 
in damming the growing influence of the Soviet Union before the 
war came to an end. 

"Mutschmann, of course, was as willing as Goebbels and the 
other Nazi leaders on whose behalf he maintained contact with 

179 



Noble. That was why Mutschmann conscientiously carried out the 
instructions he had received from Goebbels. The Mutschmanns, 
Goebbelses and their like wanted to destroy, together with the 
Nobles and the men who had given orders for the destruction of 
Dresden, as much as possible of that part of Germany which had 
been laid down at the Yalta conference as the future Soviet Zone 
of occupation. The terrible sufferings and the tremendous damage 
thus inflicted upon the German people made no difference to the 
destroyers of Germany. What they wanted was licking the spittle 
of the American imperialists in order to save themselves from the 
disaster they had caused. 

"The Nobles remained in their nice villa San Remo for some 
time after the war. They were instructed to continue the spying 
against the Soviet Union, which Noble had carried out already dur- 
ing the war, in the postwar Soviet occupation zone. But as Mutsch- 
mann, who while being Gau leader used to act the strong man 
and brutal dictator, turned out, after his arrest, to be a pitiable 
coward and weakling, he probably betrayed all about his collabora- 
tion with the Nobles and their activities. 

"At any rate, the Nobles were stopped very early from continuing 
their criminal assignment. The beautiful villa San Remo first be- 
came the city guest house of Dresden and later was converted into 
a club house for the workers. From the terrace of the villa located 
on White Deer Hill the whole city can be overlooked. Surely, the 
Nobles were waiting in the night of that Tuesday for the punctual 
appearance of the Christmas trees' [popular German term for 
flares dropped by aircraft during night raids] over the dark sil- 
houette of Dresden to show the bombers their target. Surely, the 
Nobles then stood at the window of villa San Remo, enjoying the 
macabre sight of the burning flames and of the collapsing precious 
cultural monuments and noting with heinous satisfaction the de- 
struction of the art city of Dresden as well as the fulfillment of 
the mission which they directed and which the Nazi leaders sup- 
ported. 

"The destruction of the art city of Dresden shortly before the 
end of the war is only one example of the crimes which the 
secretly collaborating German imperialists, militarists, and Fascists 
and the Anglo-American imperialists committed against the German 
people. Since the end of World War II, the German and foreign 

180 



destroyers of Germany have been collaborating openly for quite 
a while, and their objective is the preparation of another imperialist 
smash-and-grab war and of further horrible crimes against the 
peoples. 

"In order to prepare the war which the American imperialists 
want to wage for the conquest of the world, a number of pro- 
posals were laid down in the official American report on the results 
of the Anglo-American air war against Germany, the 'United States 
Strategic Bombing Survey,* From the fact that the whole air war 
did not suffice to decrease German armament production, that the 
terror raids on German cities in which the houses of the civilian 
population were destroyed and women and children were murdered 
were without military significance, the official American document 
failed to draw the consequence, namely, to renounce this kind of 
air warfare and prohibit mass extermination media in future wars. 
On the contrary, it was proposed to intensify the strategic air war- 
fare in the next war and 'to select the targets of air raids more 
carefully' than during World War II. That is, not to attack all 
possible armament enterprises with insufficient means but to con- 
centrate the raids on centers of gravity mentioned in the reports 
as 'gasoline, chemicals, steel, electricity and the traffic net.' In 
order to always be able to raid these centers uninterruptedly with 
a superior air force, the document's authors recommended to the 
U.S. rulers the expansion of a powerful U.S. air force because, in 
their opinion, the air force will play a great role in the next war 
in the 'connection of atom bomb and remote-controlled missiles 
with trans-oceanic range.' Because — the official American docu- 
ment continues — there would be 'no greater mistake than assuming 
that the practices and policies which led to victory during the 
Second World War will be sufficient for the next one.' 

"The improved practices recommended here which had already 
been used to prepare the war and which had been applied in the 
cold war include espionage and sabotage activities employed by 
the United States in Germany and all countries of the peaca 
camp. The 'United States Strategic Bombing Survey' stated that 
it was difficult in the beginning of the air war against Germany 
to recognize the targets, since the United States, at that time, did 
not have a working espionage organization in Germany and the 
Air Force command lacked data on important targets. The official 

181 



American report says literally: "There was no cooperation between 
military and other organizations — regardless of their private or 
official character. It developed only during the war. Experience has 
taught that it is better that such institutions exist all the time' [that 
is, also in peace time. — Author]. 

"In line with this proposal the American imperialists continued to 
maintain and even enlarge their espionage organization established 
in Germany after the end of the war in order to create an instru- 
ment for the next war prepared by them. The basis for the ex- 
pansion of the American espionage net was laid already during 
the last months of World War II in cooperation with the Nobles 
and Mutschmanns. 

•This cooperation resulted in the transfer of the Nazi espionage 
apparatus into American services. The German Nazis who raved 
most loudly against the American plutocrats during the Nazi regime 
have been working, since the end of the war, for the realization of 
the world conquest plans of the American imperialists. Among 
those working currently for the American espionage center are 
numerous Nazi war criminals sentenced by courts but freed from 
prisons by the Americans. Nazi General Gehlen is heading the 
thus reinforced Fascist espionage organization, whose leading 
members are former SS and Gestapo leaders. The Gehlen organi- 
zation's activities are an example of the American imperialists' and 
German Fascists' open collaboration in the preparation of another 
war. 

"The criminal tactics of the U.S. imperialism-serving Gehlen 
espionage organization, exercised illegally in the German Democratic 
Republic against the vital interests of all German people, were re- 
vealed by numerous of its members who did not want to continue 
participating in this crime. This fact was stressed in all proceedings 
of the German Democratic Republic's Supreme Court against 
Gehlen agents. Early in November 1954, for instance, main de- 
fendant Bandelow in the process against the Bandelow gang ad- 
mitted that he had been committed to act according to the 'General 
Order for All' which was found in his possession. This order con- 
tained minutely detailed instructions for the case of war. Every 
agent received detailed instructions about his duties in case of the 
repeated dropping of American bombs on German soil. By means 
of radio equipment found on them and with the aid of other 

182 



facilities, the Gehlen spies were to report the results of the ta*Tor 
raids on traffic facilities, railroads, bridges, streets, power plants, 
etc., and keep their employers continuously informed on im- 
portant targets, as well as newly constructed railroads, bridges and 
streets." 



, VORKUTA pX*M 




A